Dialogue Nights #5: Learning to Live Together

| Mitch Bogen
Dialogue Nights on learning to live together

Dialogue Nights paired icebreaker

What better time than now, with polarization and division so ascendant, to celebrate our shared humanity? With this spirit of optimism, the Ikeda Center hosted its second dialogue night event of 2018, “Learning to Live Together: Rediscovering Our Fundamental Connectedness.”

In her welcoming remarks, the Center’s Lillian I shared that the theme was inspired by Daisaku Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal, which she said “emphasizes the need for people, governments, and leaders to embrace and recognize the fact that every human being is inherently precious and irreplaceable.” Furthermore, each of us “must perceive the common humanity of those different from us.”

The evening’s initial conversations revolved around the documentary video “The Island of All Together,” a moving portrayal of conversations between tourists and Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. For their encounters, refugees and tourists paired up to engage with such deceptively simple questions as “What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?” and “What did you dream of when you were a kid?” Prior to viewing the video, attendees gathered into pairs to respond to these same questions.

In leading a discussion on the video, Lillian mentioned that in an email exchange with the makers of the video, they stressed that one of their main goals is to promote a humanism in which people talk with one another rather than about one another.

One thing that jumped out at attendees while viewing was how conversation partners were able to sit with silence and accept some initial feelings of awkwardness in order to connect on a deep level. Others found it striking how the refugees seemed both genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the tourists and grateful that the tourists in turn were open to hearing about their plight.

These insights set up the final activity, in which the students engaged in dialogue guided by two passages from Mr. Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal. The first included the advice that we seek ”a way of life where we experience joy in seeing one another’s dignity radiate its full potential,” and the second, the insight that “[mutually shared joy] arises from efforts to support each person across differences, so they may continue advancing as they take on life’s challenges.”

A few main points emerged from participant discussions on how these themes have played out in their own lives. On the topic of suffering, it was agreed that even though each person’s suffering is unique, the fact that we all feel emotional pain unites us and adds meaning when we tell others about our struggles and how we have been able to achieve relief or happiness.

One participant shared that when attending social gatherings, she habitually gravitates to people who seem similar to her. However, tonight she was able to engage in dialogue with someone who seemed quite different from her. She intends to practice this same kind of dialogue more often in her personal life.

Her experience resonated with those who remarked on the value of consciously creating platforms for meaningful, supportive exchanges, like the Ikeda Center does with its Dialogue Nights, and like the filmmakers did with the conversations they instigated and facilitated on Lesbos.

Picking up on this last point, Lillian I said that what really struck her about the video was how the powerful exchanges between tourists and refugees happened in the most humble of places—on a park bench or even sitting on a curb. Any place, she suggested, can become a platform for the powerful connectedness that comes from open-hearted, open-minded dialogue.

In her closing remarks, Lillian added that she hopes that “we continue to choose dialogue in our daily lives, in spontaneous encounters, and in our families, workplaces, and communities.”