As we were editing the articles for this issue, it was my privilege to attend the dialogue- and peace-oriented conference of the Sant’Egidio Community in Antwerp. ‘PEACE is the FUTURE’ was the conference theme, and dialogue was the style of the proceedings. In what panellists and participants shared in the various sessions, one could discern experiences, understandings and insights that can change the tone and the outcome of talks between an aggrieved party and a grievance-inflicting party. One was also reminded, however, that there are factors which can complicate or even bedevil a getting together to talk things out. There may, for instance, be so many sides that the ‘dialogue’ could become an unmanageable multilogue. Or, an attempted dialogue may be stifled or even deadlocked by monologues entrenched in ‘non-negotiable’ positions.
Returning from such a meaningful but also warningful conference, I couldn’t help being on the lookout for signs of dialogic moves or inclinations when I was editing the articles. And by contrast, of course, I was also looking for monologic phenomena or tendencies. My little exercise started simply and superficially, but led me into some surprising thinking. I discovered what I thought I had known: that the difference between monologue and dialogue was much more than a numerical one. It is so that we use several words in which the prefix ‘mono-‘ means ‘one’ or ‘single’. For instance, ‘monarchy’ and ‘monogamy’. Then, we tend to think that ‘dia’ means ‘two’ or ‘double’. (There happens to be a word based upon this misunderstanding: ‘diarchy’.) What ‘dia’ means in compounds, however, is usually one of the following: ‘through’ or ‘across’ (‘diagonal’, ‘diameter’), ‘between’ (‘diagnosis’, as the knowledge arrived at by distinguishing between symptoms). Its root meaning of ‘right through’ appears to function in several of the Greek words which fill nine dictionary pages in a typical Greek Lexicon. There are, for instance, words used for cleansing thoroughly, sifting thoroughly, toiling with perseverance, and changing completely from enmity to friendship. The particular Greek verb from which our ‘dialogue’ was derived, was used for considering fully.
After my semantic excursion, therefore, my bifocal reading gave me a clearer picture of the contrast between the captivity in self-ness or alone-ness and the liberation into together-ness. It led me to distinguish between what may be called singular and plural modes of monologue – the first expressing individual self-centredness and the second the multiplied self-centredness of a group. It also made me realise to what extent isms in general, and isms as culturism, religionism and ethnicism in particular, are based on some form of mono-mindedness.
Problems discussed in this issue offer examples of leaders and/or groups who are stuck in some kind of monologic thinking, talking, acting and even combating. One can imagine how they are driven by well-excused aspirations and/or well-intended visions, which prevent them from detecting antagonistic trends lurking in their personalities and/or cultures. What can also be found in these articles, however, are potentially problem-solving suggestions on the wavelength of dialogue – ideas about talking through, considering thoroughly, changing attitudes completely (diametrically) and implementing solutions properly.
When I share my post-conference way of reading, I am of course not suggesting that our readers have to read in the same way. Each article should as usual be read in light of its approach and purpose, and note should be taken of all its findings and recommendations. One may, however, also experiment with some between-the-line exploring of motives, attitudes and orientations. There are the pages where corruption, fanaticism, belligerence and other fixed mindsets are described and discussed, and where the reader can be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Nevertheless, there is definitely enough in these articles to strengthen our dedication to talking things out – talking right through our problems or differences. Cultural, religious and ethnic differences are human realities, but mutual understanding, problem solving and consensus are possibilities that are always and everywhere present – in the South and North, East and West.
We trust that what we are passing on to readers with this issue will be valuable on the way towards a future in which thoroughgoing dialogue will indeed contribute to PEACE writ large.