Dialogue against violence

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What makes a 'real' dialogue?

September 12, 2008

Submitted by: Frances Narvaez (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Ann Galea (ICVolunteers), Michael Siegrist (ICVolunteers), Sarah Webborn (ICVolunteers)

In a rapidly globalizing society, dialogue is an important tool to weave together various ideals and knowledge in order to bring out the essence of our humanity. Perhaps what brings us to the level of effectively utilizing this dialogue is the answer to the key question 'What makes a real dialogue?'

Language is a primary driving force for a fully operational dialogue,

but Raghavendra Gadakgar, of the Indian Institute of Sciences, also stressed that words and their meanings can only be defined in a limited way. For this reason, issues have to be examined from a multi-level and interdisciplinary approach that is supported by the creation of a cooperative society. Taking the issue of violence through lack of empathy as an example, he questioned through which channels scientists and intellectuals are able to integrate themselves in promoting discussions related to hostility in society?

In the past half century, violence has had the tendency to shift from the international level towards an inter-societal path. According to UNHCR High Commissioner Jean-Pierre Hocké, the outbreak of violence on a global scale is most likely to be prevented if localized violence is gradually eradicated and a culture favouring peace can be reinstated within communities that have been engaged in aggressive interactions with others. Ethology, the study of animal behaviour patterns, takes a different viewpoint on violence: that it is deeply rooted in interpersonal affairs.

Relationships have a critical element keeping the flame burning, only when both parties benefit simultaneously from the relationship. According to Frans de Waal of Emory University, the argument is "less about empathy or sympathy, than a reciprocal recognition that "you need the other guy" Thus we might optimistically extrapolate from de Waal's observations on social interactions among apes, that increasing globalization and encouragement of economic ties between states, should lead to a reduction in warfare as the relationship between different countries and their citizens becomes more valuable.

Contemporary research in the medical sciences appears to have drawn closer to the realization that past theories of ideal biological determinism are grossly inadequate and misleading. Prof. Gadakgar emphasized that violent behaviour cannot be fully explained by the nature of genes alone, for if this were so, natural selection of non-violent genes would have already occurred. Rather, negative behaviour can be seen as a complex interplay between one's genetic make-up and the circumstances experienced during one's life span.

Despite the diversity of views brought to the table, the often overlapping ideas are in fact an opportunity for individuals from various sectors in society to engage in a meaningful dialogue. According to Karen Cook of Stanford University, such a discussion need not occur in a laboratory-based, controlled setting; other non-scientific channels such as art and poetry can also be important platforms. Furthermore, participatory research, the search for a common language, and the strong political will of the international community are all essential components of dialogue.

While intellectuals have the obligation to increase the level of knowledge among the general public, putting solutions to the forefront remains the responsibility of all citizens and all actors within the complex network of society.

Today we are in the process of harvesting information of various kinds at the local, national and international level. This can only be synthesized and assimilated through understanding knowledge acquired through different domains of expertise. To begin improving things, a dialogue need not be perfect in structure and the presence of today's interdisciplinary knowledge network, no matter how incomplete, may still provide a robust stepping stone towards finding durable resolutions in the near future.

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The articles appearing on this site are the product of voluntary effort, as part of the cross-sector programme Conference Reports (www.conference-reports.org). The viewpoints and opinions expressed, unless otherwise noted, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of World Knowledge Dialogue, MCART or International Conference Volunteers (ICVolunteers). This article may be freely reproduced, provided credit to the writer is given, and reference to The World Knowledge Dialogue (www.wkd08.org) is indicated.

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Comment: The other side of violence is, of course, fear. Fear as a survival strategy which we impose or inflict on others. And fear in us because of the aggression of others aimed as us.

But surely, to arrive at the position of "reciprocal recognition" to "need the other guy" we must think of the other "guy" as an equal first. And more importantly it not just the "other guy", there is also the "other gal" even if we are applying figures of speech. However, in thinking of others as equals we are in effect giving up some of our advantages we have over these others and giving them an advantage over us: i.e. altruism. The question is: are we prepared to do this? It might be in our favour (we get to live in peace and prosperity) but are we prepared to bet our lives on someone else's frame of mind? Some might, but some might not.

Starting with the proposition then that "we must stop violence" cannot be a realistic option. Tit for Tat type of strategies have been show to work quite successfully without having to give up anything. And the beauty of cooperation is that it is no less a natural phenomenon, than violence is. in other words we don't even have to stop being human beings to check violence.

But the salient feature about a tit for tat type of strategy is not the behaviour, I do what you do, but rather, I know what you are doing and you know what I am doing. Knowledge, therefore, ought to be the starting point if we really want to reduce, limit or stop violence of any kind. This is of course more or less the same position as the experts mentioned in the article. The next step is to ask ourselves, what kind of knowledge are we talking about?

Once we know what each of us is really all about we start treating each other as equals. And as equals we can then play a Tit for Tat game. Once we expose the unfair advantage we or others have because of violence we are in effect initiating a process of neutralising that violence.

Those who, therefore, put themselves as custodians of authority and power ought to have a duty to expose violence whenever and where ever they find it on this planet. Violence is not a cause, but an effect.

However, the real issues in this debate are, in my opinion, are a willing to share knowledge and are we willing to learn.

Bottom Line: violence is an effect not a cause, and the cause is most probably a lack of knowledge which is needed for dialogue.

Tags: dialogue, violence, knowledge, The World Knowledge Dialogue

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