Dialogue for Vulnerability, Justice

Thoughts on Conviction 1:
"Dialogue and Mutual Understanding Are Inseparable, and Needed Now More Than Ever"

By Gonzalo Obelleiro

I see two kinds of dialogue as especially important for our time: dialogue for vulnerability and dialogue for justice. In genuine dialogical encounters, we become vulnerable. To genuinely engage someone in dialogue across differences (cultural, religious, socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender, among others) means to allow the normative demands of their condition to enter my moral life. This is a destabilizing, yet potentially empowering experience, in that it enables growth.

Vulnerability is a power when we can count on one another. Its power lies in its ability to humanize others. The many artificial walls we erect to separate ourselves from one another come down as we become vulnerable together in dialogue; we come to recognize humanity in one another, and this recognition of a shared humanity presupposes some degree of equality.

Under conditions of oppression, however, when the humanity of the weak fails to be recognized, the creative potential of dialogue for vulnerability approaches its limit and vulnerability becomes what we normally think of it: a source of weakness (Could it be that this is the common sense view of vulnerability because oppression is so pervasive in our societies?). When dialogue for vulnerability reaches its limit, we need dialogue for justice.

As the expression suggests, dialogue for justice is about power. Such dialogue seeks to challenge abuses of power and empower the weak; it finds expression in political action and political association. We are all too familiar with modes of political life that fall short of the dialogical ideal. Manipulation, intimidation, and deceit seem ever-present in the political toolkit of many leaders, even those who nominally or sincerely pursue justice. But a commitment to the pursuit of justice through dialogue forbids reverting to the logic of “defeating the enemy by any means available.”

Ultimately, both kinds of dialogue are interdependent. We need a minimum guarantee of justice to open ourselves to others in vulnerability, and justice can only be established on the basis of trust and mutual understanding. In his published dialogues and activities for peace, culture, and education, Mr. Ikeda exemplifies the art and patient labor of dialogue for vulnerability and justice. Over the two decades since its founding, the Ikeda Center has unerringly pursued this same path of dialogue.

When I try to picture a vision of the kind of public that Dewey described as sustaining a creative democracy, I imagine a society where the kinds of dialogue for vulnerability and for justice that the Ikeda Center promotes would be the norm, rather than the exception. Such a vision might still appear far away, but a great source of meaning is to be found in the work that lies ahead. 

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Gonzalo Obelleiro, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a doctoral student of philosophy and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research is intended, he says, “to introduce the perspective of Soka education into the already serious, dynamic, and diverse conversations on cosmopolitanism and education. More broadly, I hope with this to help revitalize humanistic approaches to education both in theory and practice.”

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