The classroom is an opportune place for students to build relationships and trust through Dialogue, beginning with compassionate listening to one another's personal stories.
In May, 2003, three participants from a Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group were invited to model and facilitate a new kind of school experience for a Senior Seminar in Communication at Notre Dame de Namur University.
That day in Belmont, Calif. revealed a way in which a rarely-experienced depth of human relationship could be achieved in a classroom of students from diverse backgrounds in a rather short time, even 2-1/2 hours.
Such an event is only a beginning, of course, for Dialogue must be Sustained Dialogue to truly transform relationships.
Yet, two students who had been alienated all school year did drift back together at the end of the class period, and others were moved -- some to tears -- from experiencing this contrast to how little we usually settle for in daily human interaction.
Photos are on the Web at http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AbtmbJq0aMm42.
Below is the flow of the morning.
8:05-8:15 a.m. -- Dialogue facilitator from the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group
Describe the history, contemporary context, and principles and qualities of Dialogue.
Introduce the Palestinian and Jewish exemplars.
8:15-8:40 a.m. -- Palestinian, Jewish exemplars
The Palestinian and the Jew listen to one another's life story, in about six minutes each.
Each expresses back to the other the essence of the story she or he heard.
Each describes what she or he "realized" by listening with new ears to the other's narrative.
8:40-9:00 a.m. -- Class, with Facilitator
Dialogue and interact with the exemplars and one another.
Reflect on how you experienced the exemplars.
What did you realize and observe?
What are your questions or statements?
9:00-9:35 a.m. -- Class, with Facilitator guiding and timing
Pair yourselves in twos, perhaps with another you're not likely to choose on campus.
Listen to each other's stories -- 15 minutes each.
Allow ten minutes of uninterrupted speaking, then five minutes responding to the listener's questions.
"This interests me. Can you say more about it?"
9:35-9:55 a.m. -- Class, with Facilitator
Gather the class into the full group.
"What did you "realize" from the experience and the story you heard?"
"What did you see about 'unheard stories' in general?"
9:55-10:20 a.m. -- Two students, with some Facilitator encouragement
Ask for one of the student pairs to volunteer to be exemplars in front of the class.
Ask them to introduce one another to the class by repeating the stories they heard.
Each partner "fills in" missing parts to illustrate what's unheard, misunderstood, or forgotten.
10:20-10:25 a.m. -- Dialogue facilitator
Point out principles, using charts, to ground in theory and visuals what the class just experienced.
Point out that this is how everyone in schools, homes, businesses, and regions in conflict could relate.
Until now, we've settled for far too little in our relationships.
We are learning to humanize our relationships and conflicts.
10:25-10:30 a.m. -- Instructor, class, facilitator, and Dialogue exemplars
Close with a circle and affirmation of each other and the day, if appropriate.
Elias Botto, Palestinian exemplar
This day was a culmination of what Dialogue is for me.
It was the birth of a commonality, acceptance, and unity for these students. They discovered friendships they never knew were possible.
It took us so long to attain this breakthrough to realize the "Di" part of Dialogue, meaning "between two."
Yes, today took Dialogue one step further along.
This one-on-one compassionate listening should be emulated on all the campuses so that the students get to know one another.
We saw so many tears in their eyes -- tears of being heard, of new friendship, of joy.
Miriam Zimmerman, Ed.D., Instructor
Dialogue as a resource of communication begins with compassionate listening.
In this final Senior Seminar class, the dialogue between a Palestinian, Elias Botto, and Len Traubman, a Jew, provided students with an authentic model of the transformative qualities of dialogue.
After hearing the stories of Elias and Len, students, working in dyads, demonstrated their capacity to learn by listening with new ears to their partner.
Even though all knew one another for several years by virtue of having taken the same required communication courses, they had never had the opportunity to reveal their stories. By their dialogue, they discovered the humanity in one other.
Two students, Cristala Carter and Deanna Ng, volunteered to present their narratives, each relating the other's story to the rest of the class.
Revealing their common humanity transformed Cristala and Deanna. Now, they will forever share a common bond: the experience of discovering each other's humanity.
Similarly, hearing their stories transformed those of us privileged to listen, because we were all witnesses to their transformation.
I am grateful that examplars could launch the morning with such a powerful model that compelled everyone else to particpate so fully.
That my students were able to learn so quickly, I attribute to their having chosen communication as their major field of study.
That morning gave me hope for a future in which all can learn to dialogue and thus experience the humanity that exists in everyone, no matter how different from one another we might appear from a distance.
A WNYC-Radio online streaming audio examples of reflecting personal stories back to one another are at:
More streaming audio and video examples of sharing stories and finding shared meaning are online at: