Dialogue in Trump’s America
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — David Holloway, director of Northern Ireland-based Community Dialogue, and Laurie Mulvey, executive director of Penn State’s World in Conversation Center for Public Diplomacy, will deliver a public workshop titled “Dialogue in Trump’s America.” Campus and community members are invited to participate in the workshop, which will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Monday, April 3, in Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library. The workshop connects to the University's "All In" initiative and will provide attendees with elementary tools for dialogue facilitation.
Holloway grew up near Belfast and spent much of his early adult life embroiled in the conflict often referred to as “The Troubles.” The political and sectarian conflict between communities dates to the late 1960s and is marked by acts of violence including “Bloody Sunday” in 1972 and fighting between the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and the British Army through much of the 1980s and 1990s.
Mulvey said that drawing parallels between Northern Ireland and political tensions in the U.S. today can be a useful starting point for constructive dialogues of our own.
“The roots of violent conflict are often found in a clash of interests and views that become more and more polarized,” Mulvey said. “You don’t have to work too hard to see similar underlying issues in any social conflict. David Holloway offers an excellent perspective on how, in the absence of meaningful engagement between people, nonviolent disagreement can spiral into decades of violence.”
Following PIRA and Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefires in 1994 and 1997, Holloway — along with 30 others — founded Community Dialogue to encourage a deeper understanding of the diverse positions on all sides of the conflict.
“Dialogue is the most effective tool for building our capacity to manage difference and conflict,” Holloway said. “By simply moving from arguing about our stated positions, to sharing the experiences, feelings and needs that led us to hold those positions, we can get beyond a win-lose oppositional conflict to collaborative win-win problem solving.”
With a carefully developed methodology for facilitating meaningful dialogue, Holloway and Community Dialogue played an important role in the peace-building process in Northern Ireland.
“We encouraged society-wide ownership of peace negotiations that was rooted in generating empathy between people, and nurturing a shared understanding of nonviolent problem-solving skills,” he said.
Dialogue is at the core of Mulvey’s work and the mission of the World In Conversation Center for Public Diplomacy. This year, facilitators in the center are leading hundreds of dialogues between students in the United States and countries around the world, including in Europe and the Middle East. In a partnership with NATO, they are facilitating dialogues between military cadets and civilians in conflict zones. Locally, they host more than 3,000 dialogues each year, bringing more tha 8,000 University Park students together to share diverse viewpoints on contentious topics.
In the days following the lecture, Holloway and Mulvey will invite faculty and staff to engage in dialogue about the Trump presidency.
“Our experience with dialogue shows us that it can have a transformative impact on the participants,” Mulvey explains. “So we feel that it is important to bring this tool to bear on the post-election climate in the United States, and particularly to focus on the divisions we are witnessing on our campus. Our disagreements have not elevated to the level of the Northern Ireland conflict, but what we can learn from David is that once things start to spin out of control, it happens fast. We need to commit to dialogue now.”
Reflecting on his work in Northern Ireland, Holloway said, “Significant progress has been made, but looking back I see that nobody won our conflict and everything we achieved could have been won without bloodshed through dialogue and negotiation. That is a heartbreaking understanding. So as we again find ourselves struggling with a rising tide of new conflicts around national identity, sectarianism, and racism, we need to combat ignorance with understanding and intolerance with empathy. Dialogues like these can be the start.”
Article posted from Penn State News