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How & Why Dialogue Leads to Action

It is clear that engaging in intergroup dialogue on race is an effective way for people to increase their understanding of racial issues, develop relationships with people of other races, improve their communication skills, and gain understanding and acceptance of their own racial identity and the ways in which their experiences have shaped their views. It is obvious to anyone who has participated in a well-organized dialogue that dialogue, in addition, is a powerful way to increase peoples desire and ability to make changes within themselves and in their communities.

People who participate in intergroup dialogues "discover common ground and a greater desire and ability to work collaboratively to solve local problems" (McCoy, Flavin, and Reaven 1997). Dialogue encourages what some call living democracy, a process in which citizens learn to build their own capacity and learn to build partnerships with people of all backgrounds. The dialogue process "allows us to collectively look at some of the barriers to change, and to develop action steps to address the issues of prejudice, stereotyping and other discriminatory practices that block us from having a respectful, inclusive community" (Honest Conversations 1998).

For whites, dialogue often drastically changes the way they see and react to racial issues. As one dialogue participant explained, "the dialogue gave me a personal emotional commitment to the issue. Thats the important thing about [a dialogue], youre no longer indifferent, or disengaged, or at a distance. Youre hearing from an actual person you know, and that changes how you behave."

According to Reverend Ernest Jones, who has helped organize community-wide dialogues in Bridgeport, Connecticut, dialogues help address two important needs: "first, they provide an open, democratic model for community discussion. Second, given the fact that our region suffers from so many divisions and barriers, they provide both means and method to address these issues" ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998).

Many Americans care deeply about racial issues and all of the issues that are connected to race, but feel powerless to do anything about them. Dialogue helps citizens to bridge the gap between their concerns and their actions. "By helping people come up with solutions on different levelsas individuals, as members of small groups, and as members of large institutions[dialogues] help citizens begin thinking of themselves as part of a community capable of solving its problems" (McCoy, Emigh, Leighninger, and Barrett 1996).

Dialogue participants' increased sense of power and determination to initiate change, combined with the knowledge they gain from the vastly different experiences and perspectives of their fellow members, puts dialogue groups in a unique, powerful place to solve community problems. Although "responding to a problem, challenge, or opportunity with a lot of talk might strike us as trying to cut steel with a flashlight when what we need is an acetylene torch," the kind of talk that dialogue provides is needed much more than misinformed, top-down action. Instead of tossing our flashlight aside because it seems inadequate, we need to "focus the light until it penetrates like a laser. We can cut through any situation if we focus our collective energy into a tight, precise beam" (Briand 1999).

Until communities throughout the U.S. experience real intergroup communication - real dialogue - about the issues that divide them, their biggest problems will remain unsolved. True collaboration and community-wide action is impossible if groups remain as divided and foreign to each other as they are now in our communities.

The Dialogue to Action Initiative and www.Thataway.org are ?2001 by Sandy Heierbacher and Andy Fluke. ?
Last changes added on Thursday, December 27, 2001 10:36 AM ?
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