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Repairing the Breach: The Power of Dialogue to Heal Relationships and Communities

The 7-page article, Repairing the Breach: The Power of Dialogue to Heal Relationships and Communities (2014), by Robert Stains Jr was published in Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 1. Dialogue has an incredible power to create a space for individuals to come together and work through difficult conversations that may have previously been felt by the participants as an insurmountable task. Public Conversations Project use of the Reflexive Structured Dialogue process creates an opportunity for a profound shift in conversations, as participants share their own personal stories, emotions and identities; to see and foster the humanity in each other and explore the common ground between both “sides”.

Find the PDF available for download from the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

Dialogue holds the promise of healing in all these contexts in which community is broken. The sense of community depends on the quality of relationships, and relationships grow from conversations. Therefore, the quality of conversation drives the quality of relationships and the possibility of community. At the Public Conversations Project (PCP), we have found that shifting the conversation through Reflective, Structured Dialogue invites and enables people to move from certainty to curiosity to caring; from mindless stereotyping to genuine interest by changing the nature and process of their conversations. Whether it’s a church divided over theology and human sexuality, a workplace split by gender issues or a region mired in religious and ethnic conflict, in dialogue mutual curiosity and exploration build on each other and relationships move closer to being restored. Much work has been done in our field to create and facilitate these kinds of healing conversations. Because they remain less visible than other kinds of dialogue, much more work needs to be done by practitioners, scholars and funders to evaluate, expand and sustain them.

Hope for relationship and community healing comes when dialogue focuses on personal stories, emotions and identities. It can counter the effects of the stories told of others that shred relational and communal bonds and the emotions that inflame or imprison. (Black, 2008; Freedman & Combs, 2009; Seikkula & Trimble, 2005). In face-to-face dialogue, participants have the opportunity to edit and add to the stories that are told about them, changing the ways that they are seen. As Black has observed, it is “…through telling and responding to personal stories, group members craft their identities and take on others’ perspectives” (Black, 2008, p. 93). This experience of being witnessed is powerful and connecting. It opens receptivity to others’ stories, dilutes stereotypes and invites the heart 1 Stains: The Power of Dialogue to Heal Relationships and Communities as much as the mind. And heart-focus can transform enemies to friends (Eilberg, 2014; Palmer, 2011).

In addition to expanding stories, healing dialogue focuses on “heart,” which invites feeling as well as thinking. The protected space of dialogue makes it possible for participants to express deep emotion in ways that can be received by their listeners, who reciprocate with their own expressions of feeling. In some cases that we’ve been involved with at Public Conversations, these feelings have been waiting five, eight or ten years to be expressed to “the other” whose words and actions –wittingly or unwittingly- may have ignited them. Speaking the seemingly unspeakable, and having it witnessed and engaged goes a long way toward healing individual and relational wounds. Dialogue provides the space for that to happen.

Finally, healing dialogue invites people to stand in a place of honor in the identities that matter most to them (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.), and that they feel have been maligned. Participating in a dialogue may be the first time someone has had a conversation with people of different identities that does not begin with making someone wrong because of who they are. Rather they are invited to bring their identity into the room and experience the genuine interest of others who are different from them. People who experience being seen more fully in terms of how they experience themselves in their identity apart from the limiting and often demeaning stereotypes attributed by others report feelings of liberation and connection. This experience opens their own curiosity to more complex stories and deeper feelings expressed by “the other.” The healing ripples and reverberations can be far-reaching, and powerful.

Download the case study from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol10/iss1/art7/

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