The 13th annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue, held at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue.

Power of dialogue—At the 13th annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue, MIT professor Ceasar McDowell discusses modes of dialogue that can unite society, Oct. 27, Cambridge, Mass. Photo: Marilyn Humphrey.

by Mitch Bogen
SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 27—The 13th annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue, held at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue, was called “Crisis or Opportunity: A Dialogue on Democracy, Inclusion, Community.” It featured Ceasar McDowell exploring the modes of dialogue that can unite diverse segments of society while strengthening democracy in the process.

Dr. McDowell, professor of the practice of community development at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invited everyone to take a step back from this year’s political controversies and consider how we can build spaces and structures capable of effectively engaging as many people as possible in the cause of creating a just and prospering society.

Effective dialogue must enable us to weigh the relative value of possible solutions.

He shared a number of core characteristics of effective dialogue for social well-being. First, he said, is that our spaces for dialogue should involve those at the margins of society in any activity or solution aimed at social improvement. After all, they are the ones who live with the failures of the system, so without their participation true solutions will be elusive.

He also said that effective dialogue must enable us to weigh the relative value of possible solutions. It is nothing less than “transformative,” he said, to understand that there are no absolutes in the work of community building.

Among the other dimensions of dialogue covered during the forum, one focused on compassion. Dialogue, said Dr. McDowell, must be designed for healing. By this, he meant healing on the part of everyone, not just those most readily identified as “victims.” All of us, he said, “are wounded by the ways we have had to engage with each other” in our society.

At the heart of Dr. McDowell’s message was a question he offered at the start of his talk: “What is the relationship between how we talk to each other, as well as the conditions under which we talk to each other, and our ability to be inclusive, to be in community, and to make democracy work?”

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