In his keynote address to more than 50,000 people during the Seeds of Compassion Conference in Seattle, Washington, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, urged everyone to have hope for the future and called for a “century of dialogue.” Trying to avoid direct reference to the situation in Tibet at this essentially nonpolitical event, the Dalai Lama's message still sought to replace the current period of civil strife and what he called “constant war” with one that had dialogue at its core.
I think that you would agree with me that the Dalai Lama’s message not only is a reflection of the “audacity of hope” but also is a manifestation of his authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals, that is, what I refer to in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, the “will to meaning.”
What and Why of DIALOGUE
Yet, I also believe that hope is not a strategy and that the pursuit of meaning takes much more than words alone. So what is dialogue and why is it so difficult to do? We all hear the word “dialogue” battered around rather loosely, used indiscriminately (like the boy who learns how to use a hammer and then finds that everything could use a bit of hammering!), and referred to in ways that would seem to make it an easy thing to do. Besides suggesting that we all need to use the process of “dialogue” in group settings as a way to resolve conflicts, solve problems, and even promote innovation, we also are frequently called upon to have an “inner dialogue” with ourselves. Perhaps in this way, we’ll actually get to “know” ourselves better and increase the likelihood of achieving our highest potential!
This brings us back to the basic question, “why is dialogue easier said than done?!” Let’s begin to answer this question by first seeking to understand what is meant by the word dialogue at its “root” level. The word dialogue actually comes from two Greek words--dia, meaning “through,” and logos, most frequently but only roughly translated in English as “the meaning.” Upon closer examination, the various translations of the word logos, a common Greek word, reveal that it has deep spiritual roots. In fact, the concept of logos can be found in most of the great works describing the history of Christianity, as well as throughout the literature on religion and Western philosophy.
In this regard, one of the first references to logos as “spirit” came from the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, around 500 BC. The logos of Heraclitus has been interpreted in various ways, as the “logical,” as “meaning,” and as “reason”; but, as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, “What can logic…do if we never begin to pay heed to the logos and follow its initial unfolding?” To Heraclitus, this “initial unfolding” viewed the logos as responsible for the harmonic order of the universe, as a cosmic law which declared that “One is All and Everything is One.”
The doctrine of the logos was the linchpin of the religious thinking by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, who, while not always consistent in his use of the term, clearly established it as belonging only to the “spiritual” realm. Indeed, Philo sometimes suggested that the logos is the “highest idea of God that human beings can attain…higher than a way of thinking, more precious than anything that is merely thought.” For Philo, the logos was Divine, it was the source of energy from which the human soul became manifest. Consistent with the logocentric character of Philo’s thought, “it is through the Logos and the Logos alone that man is capable of participating in the Divine.”
Moreover, Philo’s confidence in the human mind rests on the self-assurance that the human intellect is ultimately related to the divine Logos, “…being an imprint, or fragment or effulgence of that blessed nature, or…being a portion of the divine ether.” To Philo, the origins of logos as “spirit” were clearly well documented in the writings of the early Greek philosophers and the theologians of his era. This kind of interpretation of logos also has received attention most recently in Karen Armstrong’s bestseller, A History of God, in which she notes that St. John had made it clear that Jesus was the Logos and, moreover, that the Logos was God.
DIALOGUE with Deeper Meaning
Interpreting logos in this way, that is, viewing it as a manifestation of spirit or soul, carries with it significant implications, both conceptual and practical. Dialogue, as a concept, takes on a new and deeper meaning when it is perceived as a group’s accessing a “larger pool of common spirit” through a distinctly spiritual connection between the members. This suggests more than “collective thinking,” although dialogue certainly is a determinant of such a holistic process. Spirit flowing through the participants in dialogue leads to collective thinking, which, in turn, facilitates both a common understanding and a common “meaning.” Furthermore, authentic dialogue enables individuals to acknowledge that they each are part of a greater whole, that they naturally resonate with others within this whole, and that the whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of its various parts.
Herein, however, lies the difficulty associated with engaging people in “authentic” dialogue--it cannot and will not happen if we are “prisoners of our thoughts.” True dialogue will only occur if the participating stakeholders are willing to enter the spiritual realm of the logos and “converse,” if you will, on this deeper level. Cognitive, so-called “knowledge-based,” interactions are not sufficient for authentic dialogue to occur. One must be open and willing to entertain a diversity of thought and discover a common ground by going to a higher ground. And, to be sure, this is extremely difficult, if not seemingly impossible, for most of us to do, especially when the “stakes” are high.
I don’t believe that we have to become a “Dalai Lama” to have hope for the future. I also don’t believe that we have to become a “Dalai Lama” to engage in authentic dialogue with others (and with ourselves). The Dalai Lama’s call for a “century of dialogue” is not only possible but is within our reach, should we choose to pursue and authentically commit to such a meaningful value and goal. Once again, this requires that we discover common ground in and through our relationship with others.
However, “You can never enter into relationship with others if you believe that you have a monopoly on truth.” I’ll never forget this profound statement, made in the summer of 1996 by the late German Catholic Bishop Hermann Josef Spital at “Mountain House,” the international conference centre in Caux, Switzerland (above Montreux). At the time, I was President of Renaissance Business Associates, an international nonprofit association of people committed to promoting sound business ethics and elevating the human spirit in the workplace, and was facilitating a dialogue session with participants from some 80 countries at Mountain House.
To say the least, my entire experience at Caux was transformational and I learned more about the process of authentic dialogue in action during my stay at Mountain House than during any other time of my life! And because I saw firsthand the process working and the positive results that ensued from it, I’m pleased to report that the Dalai Lama’s vision is not as far-fetched as it may initially appear. (By the way, I was fortunate to be at Mountain House when the Dalai Lama visited and was a speaker!)
So, I ask you:
What are you going to do in your life and work to demonstrate that there is hope for the future, as well as to help create a “century of dialogue” in the world around you?
FOOTNOTE: It is not mere coincidence that Viktor Frankl’s System of Logotherapy, as I describe in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, intends both to “humanize” and “spiritualize” psychotherapy. Like with the word, dialogue, the root of Logotherapy contains the now familiar to you Greek word, “logos.”
All the best,
Alex Pattakos, Ph.D.
author, Prisoners of Our Thoughts
founder, Center for Meaning
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