Project Dialogue’s mission is to foster and support dialogues for understanding and wisdom, to learn from them through systematic reflection, and, in light of these experiences, to train individuals to design and facilitate productive dialogues.
The origins of Project Dialogue can be found in several streams that converge in the Center for Community Engagement: the streams are historical, cultural-philosophical, institutional, and personal.
History: Lessons from Our Past
Human communities have engaged in dialogue of one form or another since language was beginning to develop as a human capacity. The need for clear and deep understanding of different points of view has been essential to our survival. A common image of indigenous communities is a circle gathering in which each participant speaks and is heard before a decision is taken.
In later historical forms, we see Quaker meetings, salons in 19th century Paris, 1970s women’s consciousness raising gatherings in the U.S.A., interfaith and interracial dialogue circles, and so forth. With the rise of electronically mediated communications, however, public and face-to-face gatherings have decreased and been supplanted to a certain extent by virtual communication.
While this has opened up new possibilities for identity construction and language use, many are sensing a deep need for careful and prolonged conversation with others in their neighborhoods, workplaces, cities, and faith communities. Project Dialogue intends to help address this need and contribute to needed social transformation.
Cultural-Philosophical: Global Influences Moving us Forward
The cultural-philosophical streams that inform Project Dialogue come from both East and West and bring to light the importance of expanding one’s personal horizons of understanding as both a path to enlightenment and a way toward more meaningful living with others.
Dialogue practices are based on the understanding the illusion of the ”˜Other’ is a primary challenge en route to attainment of self-knowledge, empathy, love, and peace. In other words, achieving these values takes work – the work of dialogue. The meaningfulness of experience itself can be said to be dialogical.
Institutional: Guided by Creativity, Compassion, and Commitment
The institutional stream refers to the longstanding mission of the Graduate School at Lewis & Clark: to foster social justice through learning, service, and leadership. From 2004 to 2007, the Graduate School’s Oregon Center for Inquiry and Social Innovation piloted public dialogue to reduce polarization about the U.S. occupation of Iraq and to understand the needs of Portland’s immigrant communities. In 2008 we began planning to support a wide array of projects connecting the Graduate School to communities locally and internationally through the then newly formed Center for Community Engagement, which now hosts Project Dialogue.
Personal: An Awakening to the Power of Dialogue
Tod Sloan, PhD, Professor of Counseling Psychology
The personal stream is my own awakening to the importance of dialogue. Growing up in suburban USA. and spending years in international communities in Asian countries, I struggled with a sense of alienation from community and estrangement from others.
Later, when training as a psychotherapist, I discovered the power of dialogue in fostering connection, empathy, and healing through story, symbol, and metaphor. As I became more engaged in community-level organizing work, I witnessed over and over how the absence of interpersonal and intergroup understanding can produce frustration, conflict, ineffectiveness, and eventually apathy. I saw this in all sorts of settings: nonprofits, grassroots organizing, political parties, and universities.
In 2002, I attended the first National Conference on Dialogue and Deliberation and found hundreds of others working in similar settings with the purpose of fostering deeper dialogue, wiser decision-making, and fuller democracy. I was hooked. When I came to Lewis & Clark in 2004 to chair the Department of Counseling Psychology, I was eager to organize a space in which scholarship, experience, and training in connection with dialogue practices could occur. I am excited to have found that faculty, student colleagues, and community members alike are ready to collaborate on this venture.
We invite you to contact Project Dialogue with any questions or ideas for how we might accompany or help open dialogue spaces in your community or organization. Contact Tod Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 503-768-6066.