Dialogue is about discovering one’s own needs and the needs of others. Most people aren’t aware that the statements they make have more than one side to them.
The statement “I want you to listen to me” covers more than just a need to be listened to. The statement in itself is called a position. But our aims in the dialogue process is to discover a person’s interest, which can be explained as the goal or what he desires to achieve. To find this we need to discover the underlying need that drives the interest.
For many people discovering the needs behind their positions can be hard, something that can be caused by many different things, such as the fact that we do not ponder our positions in our daily life, or because we have become accustomed to the positions we promote. But needs are universal, which is a wonderful thing, as it makes it possible for every human being to recognize needs in himself and in others. By addressing them we are able to open an inner door, which can give us the motivation to understand the person we’re talking to – even when disagreements persist.
One of our basic needs is belonging; people have a need to belong to at least one social context. Belonging means not to be alone and to feel accepted, and in our multi-cultural dialogues the need for belonging is frequently expressed by participants from cultural minorities. Their position is: we are Norwegians. The interest behind this position might be to focus on the fact that people with minority background can be Norwegians. Their need is to belong – to be accepted.
For some members of the ethnic majority this position is seen as provoking. How can these people claim to be Norwegians?
Norwegians are people who have lived here for generations, or people with white skin. They might react on this position by attacking it or argue against it. I call this a ping pong play – attack and defend. A ping pong play rarely opens for new understanding or a change of your own position. We spend our time fine tuning our arguments instead of listening to what is being said, or trying to understand what might be the interest and need behind the statement.
During the dialogue the participants are encouraged to pose each other questions starting with: How and what? What does it mean to be Norwegian? One group of youths from a high school in Oslo answered that question by saying; all people who feel as Norwegians are Norwegians. Others would say people with a Norwegian passport are Norwegians. There are many answers for this question, all of which might be equally right or wrong, depending on the point of view of the person who asks.
Asking questions allows us to explore the interests and needs behind a position.
We give people a chance to recognize their needs in the needs of the the person they’re talking to. Through that process, we might be able to empathize with someone we do not agree with, and we see them as a human being with the same needs as ourselves.
Dialogue is a way of connecting people regardless of status, position, background, and religion. We are encouraged to pose ourselves challenging questions, such as how it would feel to live in Norway as a black woman, denied the opportunity to be accepted as Norwegian – unable to satisfy one of our basic needs – belonging?
Asking such questions can be the start of a new understanding. It might not change people’s opinion of what it means to be Norwegian, but perhaps our attitude will become more humble and open, which is the first step for a well-functioning multi-cultural community.