Exploring Genuine Dialogue
by Mitch Bogen
Special to the Tribune
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The Ikeda Center’s Dialogue Nights series continued on Oct. 19 with Boston-area students and young professionals exploring the qualities of genuine dialogue. This topic was chosen to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the center’s founding (on Sept. 24, 1993) by SGI President Ikeda as an institute devoted to peace, learning and dialogue.
Ikeda Center Program Manager Lillian I captured the spirit of the event with a quote from President Ikeda’s 1993 Harvard University address, considered the center’s “founding lecture”: “Genuine dialogue results in the transformation of opposing viewpoints, changing them from wedges that drive people apart into bridges that link them together” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 341–42).
The more than 30 attendees engaged in two main activities. The first consisted of a series of brief, paired discussions during which participants moved around with each new discussion question to interact with someone they didn’t know prior to the event. They responded to questions such as: Where do you consider home, and why? What are you proud of? What would you like to talk about but find difficult?
Next, they gathered into three groups to create and perform sets of skits that would demonstrate the attributes of effective versus ineffective dialogue. The skit scenarios included a couple on a first date, a professor engaged in a conflict with a student who wanted to bring his therapy pet into class, and two men engaged in a conflict over littering and plastic waste at a bus stop.
After viewing the skits, each group offered insights into the nature of dialogue. For example, one group observed that the negative interactions in the skits were characterized by dismissiveness of and little consideration for the other’s feelings, while the positive ones displayed openness to how the other person is perceiving the situation.
The evening closed with Ikeda Center Executive Director Virginia Benson thanking everyone for affirming President Ikeda’s conviction that to believe in “the value of one-to-one dialogue” is “ultimately nothing other than a faith in people, in life itself” (Peacebuilding Through Dialogue, p. xi).