At collaboratio helvetica, one of our key methods and principles is dialogue. By ‘dialogue’ we mean the kinds of conversations that change something in us when we take part in them, and that shift something between the people who are involved in the conversation. We mean dialogues where we need to “risk” being authentic and to co-create a space where others can do the same. We mean dialogues about challenging our habits of thought and conversation: listening with attention, speaking with intention and daring to turn the camera around to face ourselves and the roles we might have within the systems we are trying to change.
What do we see is happening
We live in a fast paced world, and as our challenges grow more global and complicated, the need to find solutions increases rapidly. Luckily we are the generations who has all the solutions we need to change any of the current situations we face.
However we are also in an era in which systemic issues often lie at the root of those critical challenges, where the problems become counter-intuitive and in which cause-and-effect relationships are not immediately applicable nor apparent. In many cases the problems are actually paradoxes and when our focus is to solve those (perceived problems) as fast as possible, we might actually repeat or deteriorate the issue even further (Just think of President Trump's latest proposal to solve the danger of school shootings by giving the teachers the right to wear guns). Therefore a different way, a more multifaceted way, to tackle current societal challenges is needed, and such approach has been recited to us before. By people such as Albert Einstein, who said: “The problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.”
We are the first problem
The problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them. This means that we have to shift the level from where we think and deal with things. Our very own thinking is therefore the first problem. Especially as we often are not aware of where our thinking (individually and collectively) is coming from, and how our operating belief system reproduces mechanisms that makes problems continue or deteriorate.
The metaphor of the chained elephant might help us to further comprehend this antithesis. Have you ever been to the circus and seen an elephant? If you go you might see an elephant being tied to a particular pole that allows the elephant a certain range to move and with nothing else than a leash or a thin chain to hold it set on its spot. How come that the elephant does not just use its power to break the thin chain? The reason for that is that when the elephant was little and it is for the first time tied to its pole it learned that it does not have the power to go anywhere. This belief imprints itself into the animal, and so even when it has become a full grown, equipped and strong elephant it is held back by the same belief and concept that it has been used and been reminded of since childhood. The elephant is shackled by its training not by its chain.
The metaphor reminds us of what it means to become enslaved by chains we have the power to break. Even us humans are sacked not by our chains but by our training and habitual way of dealing with problems. We are so used to entering spaces with the clear focus set on the outcome, on finding the solution to our problem, on delegating responsibility for our problems. It creates in us a lot of anxiety not to have a clear plan to achieve an expected outcome, and we like to operate from the idea that the reason for coming together is to find, plan and implement the right actions as fast as possible. But how can you expect a certain outcome based on a set of assumptions and still claim to be open to challenging those assumptions, which came up with the problem in the first place? And is It possible to act out of necessity to reach a fast solution without blurring the ability to slow down and to listen deeply?
What is needed?
My answer to those two questions would be no. What I see is needed is a notion that any sustainable development and SDG (sustainable development goals) related work and efforts requires 2 kinds of spaces to prevail with their purposes. One kind of space is the space for negotiation, discussion and debate. Settings that allows for analysing results, converging strategies and effective decision making. The other kind of space is the space for dialogue. In a dialogue we can experience how letting go of our habits of truth (assumptions about what the problem is in the first place) and our personal agendas, helps the nameless tacit possibilities, the powerful connections and the deeper listening to manifest. This is why dialogue spaces are key to decompose old operating systems. The moment when there is a genuine interest and deeper understanding for the other’s perspective and story, is the moment when radical meaning creation and experimentation can shape a different, deeper and new collective solution. We have traditionally been putting a lot of attention on the results and the content of our organisations. Dialogue suggests that the process, the way we engage with each other, matters too. This blog wants to explore this suggestion.
Working with dialogue
Dialogue is part of the vision at collaboratio helvetica. Over the last year, we have been hosting open spaces for dialogue between versatile groups of people in CH on different relevant societal issues or topics around the Sustainable Development Goals(SDG´s).
The way we have seen dialogue work is that it helps participants to engage with difficult topics, seeing their own part within the bigger system, but without leading them to feeling overwhelmed by apathetic or paralysation.
We have seen and experienced how a person enters into a dialogue about gender equality, with a clear opinion at hand, with some un-comprehensions towards parts of the “system”, and some wish to find solutions to her frustrations. And we have seen the person leaving that space again with new questions such as “If I don’t want to move beyond the box that I like, how can I expect people to break the boxes I don’t like?”, and with the intention of working more on her own self-harmony.
We have seen and experienced a person entering a dialogue space about sustainable consumption, with an agitation towards current society, a lack of hope, and some wish to find solutions to his frustrations. Leaving that space again with a notion that sustainable consumption might be driven forward as much by someone placing an adversarial commend, than from someone throwing a metal can in nature. His next intention being to stop focusing on the sustainable consumption of the world, and start focusing on the quality of human connection in the world.
Something happened to both these individuals that they could not have encountered before entering the space, and which gave them a new level of thinking from where to approach the issue.
All that we don’t yet know
And with these approaches driven forth by a dialogue vision I, and we at collaboratio helvetica, are still carrying a beginners mind where we wish to learn and grow together around the topic of dialogue with other people who are curious and who also ask themselves the question “How to hold the space for such transformation?”
And as we hold this question, which we know is key to prevailing with our vision, others follow:
What is the right speed? How fast or slow can things move? (do we just ought to jump into the cold water from one moment to the other? or is more patience needed? (like the diver who has been deep underwater for a long time, and getting up is a meticulous process, little by little, to adapt to a new kind of pressure?)
If asking penetrating questions is what shifts thinking radically and what we wish versatile groups of people to experience, then how do we even get the right people interested? How do we get the right people into the room? How do we create curiosity if others don't understand the value before they experience it?
How do we reclaim our ability to hold and explore questions more than answers? We get educated not in asking questions but in answering questions, and the question is how do we ever shift this agenda, when the urgent “answers first” agenda is subversive for establishing an “questions first” agenda. Why is it so challenging and triggering for us when we lack the meaning or the trajectory? And is there a point and a quality when we admit that we feel incoherent, meaningless, clueless?
What might happen if such questions were brought into an open, authentic and versatile space to be explored through dialogue?
To you want to experience dialogue? Visit one of our up-coming dialogue evenings.
Sidsel Andersen is from Denmark and has been connected to Switzerland every since she entered the kaospilot education. She is an experienced process leader and facilitator, and in collaboratio helvetica she works with the Dialogue Evenings and the methodology, practice and community for dialogue.