In front of me are two books.
The first book is Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1996). He said that the end of the Cold War and its ideological conflict is paving the way to global clashes between major cultures: Western vs. Chinese, Western vs. Islamic, Hindu vs. Islamic, Hindu vs. Chinese, etc.
The second book tells a story (Adam Kahane’s “Solving Tough Problems”: an Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities, 2004) of how leaders of warring political groups in apartheid South Africa met and talked together at Mont Fleur Conference Center — a fateful meeting where they mustered the courage and goodwill to clarify together the stark choices and futures South Africa faces, and which eventually paved the way towards the end of apartheid and the rise of Nelson Mandela.
As I read these two books, I feel both fear and hope. I am afraid of a nuclear holocaust started by trigger-happy leaders. What will Israel do once Iran develops a nuclear weapons capability? What will a fundamentalist Islamic group do if they are able to steal Pakistani nuclear weapons? Would desperation push North Korea to send a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile to their Korean cousins in the south?
We may yet save humankind from mutual assured destruction of a nuclear holocaust if we, especially our leaders, learn how to truly talk together.
Harvard Professor David Bohm and Mark Edwards, in their book “Changing Consciousness: Exploring the Hidden Source of the Social, Political, and Environmental Crises Facing Our World,” said
- “Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or to conform to those of others and without distortion and self deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture?”
I feel guardedly hopeful because I could see the solution, or at least the direction where humankind can find a solution, namely, generative dialogue (see “D19- Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue”). This is what happened in 1991 at Mont Fleur. I said “guardedly” because there are people who think it is wrong for their leaders to compromise and who will use violence to stop their leaders. The 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat after he dialogued with Israel in 1978-79 leading to the Camp David Accords is an example. The 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin after the Oslo Accords of 1993 — the first official dialogue between the Israel government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization — is another example.
We all engage in conversations many times a day. It is so common, many tend to think they know how to engage in a productive conversation.
“Managing Conversations” is an entire chapter in the book, “Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation,” by von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka. According to them
- “…good conversations are the cradle of social knowledge in any organization…(which) allows for the first and most essential step of knowledge creation: sharing tacit knowledge within a microcommunity.”
Referring to the events after September 11, former President Khatami of Iran — who wrote the book “Dialogue Among Civilizations: a Paradigm for Peace” (2006) — said
- “Two superficially opposing voices are heard in America and Afghanistan, which in fact are the two sides of the same coin… One says whoever is not with America is a terrorist and the other says whoever does not accept this behavior is an opponent of Islam and a proponent of America… Such false and arrogant judgments are the root cause of violence and terror as well as war.”
William Isaacs, who studied under learning organization guru Peter Senge and double-loop learning proponent Chris Argyris, wrote about how generative dialogue can be achieved (“Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together”, 1999).
Civilizational divides are threatening the security and stability of the planet and all of us, we need to learn how to truly talk to each other. If we can practice dialogue towards learning organizations, perhaps we can next practice it towards learning nations.