“One Guyana” needs dialogue

One of the intriguing aspects of our political and social conflict in Guyana is the dearth of real communication between the involved parties. Even when they meet, either as individuals or groups, we speak “at” and not “to” each other: we see this in the polemics of the GTU. What is needed is more dialogue. In the words of one expert, Louise Diamond from the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, “Dialogue means we sit and talk with each other, especially those with whom we may think we have the greatest differences. However, talking together all too often means debating, discussing with a view to convincing the other, arguing for our point of view, examining pros and cons. In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate, but to inquire; not to argue, but to explore; not to convince, but to discover.”
Now that the distinction has been made, we can see that, up to now, we have been debating, rather than having a dialogue in the public sphere. Very few have ever been convinced to change their positions, much less their beliefs, through debate; most simply change their tact, and introduce new variables in an attempt to “win the argument”. What we witness are contrary interpretations of the data, which may not be even fully understood by the commentators themselves. This has become very clear in the letters that have been flooding the press on the PPP Government’s development plan to utilise the oil funds to strategically diversify the economy.
One gets the feeling that the interlocutors are not really reading to understand what the other has written, but are busy formulating an argument to counter the point raised. There ensues an easy stereotyping of the other, and a refusal to concede on points for fear of possibly appearing “weak”, and so letting down “the side”. Dialogue challenges all these hurdles to effective communication, and can lead to possible reconciliation; which we want to emphasise means that we may still have all sorts of differences.
While, even in dialogue, opponents in deep-rooted conflict are unlikely to agree with each other’s views, they can come to understand each other’s perspectives. As they listen to one another and relate in new ways, participants learn new perspectives, reflect on their own views, and develop mutual understanding. In dialogue, when one person says something, another person’s response expresses a slightly different meaning. This difference in meaning allows parties to see something new, which is relevant both to their own views and those of the other party. The conversation moves back and forth with the continual emergence of new meaning.
Through inquiry and conversation, parties try to integrate multiple perspectives and unfold shared meaning. This involves uncovering and examining their assumptions and judgments. When people enter into conversations with others, they bring with them basic assumptions about the meaning of life, their country’s interest, how society works, and what is most valuable. Most of these basic assumptions come from society, and are rooted in culture, race, religion and economic background. As a result, people coming from different backgrounds have different basic assumptions and values, and these clashing views and perspectives often lead to conflict. This point is most relevant in our plural society, even as we strive to realise “One Guyana”.
Most persons are not immediately aware of the degree to which their conception of reality is biased and influenced by their personal needs and fears. In dialogue, participants explore the presuppositions, beliefs, and feelings that shape their interactions; they discover how hidden values and intentions control people’s behaviour and contribute to communication successes and failures. For example, it begins to become clear why a group avoids certain issues, like elections rigging; or why it insists, against all reason, on defending certain positions, like not reforming GECOM. Participants can collectively observe how unnoticed cultural differences often clash without their realizing what is happening. These observations help participants to determine what is blocking effective communication.
Are we ready for real dialogue in “One Guyana”?