Dialogue for Change

Postdate: 23/ 10/ 2009

Dialogue is a natural part of our lives; it is how we form relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Dialogue is simply talking, listening and learning and we use it to build relationships based on trust and understanding. It is this basic trust and understanding that enables us to find solutions to our everyday differences and disagreements.

On the global stage, dialogue has resolved numerous social and political conflicts, bringing sustained long-term change and peace. Inclusive dialogue in South Africa led to the end of the racist apartheid system and the forging of a new multi-ethnic future. Closer to home, dialogue between resistance guerrilla groups and the PNG government ended the civil conflict in Bougainville in 1997. Likewise numerous dialogue processes throughout the Pacific are helping to resolve local social conflicts (e.g. The Solomon Islands and Tonga).

Dialogue is therefore a vital ingredient for introducing change; changes at home, changes in the workplace, and in particular long-term social and political change. History shows that trying to introduce change without open inclusive dialogue fails in the long-term. Such ‘non-dialogue’ change tends to only increase division, tension and the entrenching of attitudes. People feel betrayed and excluded and hold on to these negative feelings into the future; feelings that ultimately form the beginning of the next conflict.

When it comes to dialogue on a social and political level, a structured dialogue process is usually required. Such a process should be capable of introducing sustainable positive change. For a dialogue process to be successful all sides of society need to be equal parties to, and have joint ownership of the process. The dialogue process must also take place at all levels in society; from the community level, to the national leadership level. To secure this inclusiveness and joint ownership, the process must be independently managed and facilitated; it must provide a comfortable space for all the participants to the dialogue.

The secret to successful dialogue lies in participants coming together to understand each other’s point of view. A successful dialogue goes beyond just talking, it is about minds unfolding and learning; it is about putting oneself in the other person’s shoes. A successful dialogue will find the core reasons for the conflict and division and take a long-term perspective in finding solutions.

Now is the time for a national dialogue for change in Fiji. I urge Fiji’s community and national leaders, along with Fiji’s international neighbours and partners to open up to dialogue, to construct a new pathway forward based on talking, listening and learning.

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