To a thinking person, it is quite clear that human beings have collectively contributed more problems to the earth than any other species. If the earth were to consider the cost of having humankind on its surface, she would hardly view as positive, the poisoning of water and air, the mining of land, the wiping out of species, or even the large scale technological projects that humans are so proud of. Apart from wreaking all this havoc on the environment, man has not been kind to mankind itself. The killing and maiming of other humans, the denial of simple life support to children, are part of one large movement. All noble intentions, however laudable, cannot be distinguished from the unintended devastation that is caused in their wake. The devastation is clearly not only against nature and other creatures; it is also visible in the conflicts between groups and nations, in the relationships between human beings.

We find today that even close relationships do not support a blossoming; we do not know what to say to our children. Can one offer to the young a sense of hope, or only a basketful of problems that we have not been able to solve? What can be more tragic than a parent who cannot offer his child a healthy, cheerful tomorrow with a full heart? Future generations may mock at any love that we wish to speak of.

Why is the ground beneath our feet so shaky? Why is there no sense of solidity, firmness? Is there anything that anyone can do? Is there a place to begin? Is there any wisdom at all that we can draw upon? Is there anything we can learn from people who lived on this earth aeons ago and from our forefathers? It is obvious that for any solidity in the ground beneath our feet we have to find footholds that will not slip or slide. We will need to look carefully for purchase, for any remaining solidity. We may also need to learn the art of walking together on shaky ground.

For the ground to be solid, it must be based on reality. But what happens when our world is built on individualistic ideas rather than on ground realities and a need for the common good? We can see whole nations, cities, corporations and enterprises being built on principles that are exclusive and excluding. Totalitarian regimes have given way to different models of control, seemingly fairer. And yet we find that indigenous people in every land continue to be denied rights to live on their traditional lands and are easily displaced. In India, 330 millions have been displaced after 38 independence for the sake of large modernizing projects. Where is the fairness and whose purposes are met through these enterprises? National interests and those of corporate functioning cannot be separated any longer. It is significant that Nike – a profit driven, multinational enterprise – is now tying up with the UN – a non-profit, international body!

It is quite clear that the dominant discourse about how mankind must move ahead is getting exclusive and excluding. Whole segments of society are not included, and therefore there is an us and a them. The right to sell cigarettes, to run nuclear plants and to have child pornography on the net has become more important than recognizing the person next to us and listening to his voice. The media is more attractive with its compact, precise, polished messages than the fumbling articulation of mere mortals. Human beings are feeling ashamed to speak unless they can do it in a polished manner. We are hard-pressed to find food for conversation, and we revert to brief telephonic exchanges or the Internet chat rooms under a cloak of anonymity. The flow of events is reducing verbal communications to brief questions and briefer answers.

We have been sold the belief that to every question there is but one answer and that there is a best answer. We cannot argue with this belief. For there is no space to explore, to widen the question, to understand, to really find out the parameters of the ‘rightness’ that is being talked about. Conversation has broken down and therefore it is not surprising that we stand helpless and mute. It is also not surprising that there is little dialogue, a back and forth movement that sharpens one’s gaze and clarifies the question. This is the ultimate triumph of the dominant paradigm: its magnificent, powerful, visible artefacts demonstrate its rightness, desirability and invincibility; the air around us is filled with the presence of its word, sound and images, and its strident voice extinguishing dialogue, eliminating any clear examination of reality.

When faced with a problem we may yield or we may resist and fight. Perhaps we need do neither. Perhaps we simply need to reclaim our right to examine and understand life in ways that are different from the voice of the paradigm. It is time to see that we can all be participants in a dialogue, an ongoing conversation. By remaining mute and not being able to express our views, we are impoverishing the dialogue. Starting to say one’s piece, starting to say that which is different from the mainstream, is the beginning. It may not have an effect. That is relatively unimportant. Saying one’s piece makes one a participant in a different dialogue, which is buried beneath the words. The kind of inner questions that might arise in this subliminal dialogue are: what do I do Starting to say one’s piece, starting to say that which is different from the mainstream, is the beginning. if I am opposed or if I am ridiculed? What do I do if there is another view? Is there any resolution which may be other than my view as opposed to another’s? Is my truth limited? Is the paradigm limited? What shall I base my actions, my participation on?

There were three young men who went to a Sufi master for instruction. He took them out in the garden and asked them to observe his actions. He picked up a stick and knocked off all the flowers above a certain height. Asked to interpret, the first student said, ‘When one comes to the teachings one undergoes a levelling.’ The second student said, ‘Things which appear important may not really be so.’ The third student said, ‘A dead thing can do injury to a living thing.’ The teacher said, ‘Each of you is right. None of you has the complete picture. Putting together all that you have said also does not make the complete picture.’

Dialogue and participation seem to demand that, as one speaks, one must be aware of the fact that one’s view is incomplete. Rather than becoming tongue-tied, this obvious limitation can be viewed as an invitation for other incomplete views to be expressed. We need to set aside the myth of the ultimate truth, the complete answer, the most superior position. We need to separate the goodness inherent in participation, from the rightness of an answer. An awareness of the fact that, however profound one’s utterances, it does not make the complete picture, sets one free to stay open, awaiting a deeper understanding. The need to agree or disagree is taken away.

It is often said that for a deep or meaningful conversation, the numbers need to be small, even one to one. One wonders if in taking this view we are in danger of losing the richness of other possibilities. While one to one conversations permit opportunities to be directly challenged, to encounter another and oneself in an inescapable way, they also present the dangers of one view pitted against another, or of slipping into a hierarchical teacher-taught mode. The opportunities to respond quickly and with urgency may appear to be important, but the same opportunity may make a deeper consideration of what has been said difficult. One wonders if more important than speaking, is the exercising of one’s brain and deeply considering what is being said. In a larger dialogue there is this greater opportunity to listen, and therefore a possibility of wider reflection. However, the danger here is of some voices being louder and others conveniently lapsing into silence.

One wonders if it is possible for human beings to speak with each other, being aware of the limitation of individual thinking, and hence eager to listen to others. We need to protect and nurture every individual’s freedom to state exactly what he feels, especially views contrary to or different from one’s own. At this point one may be skeptical, and wonder how anything will get done. Our urgent natures will feel that decisions and 40 action will take too much time. But can we so easily give up the attempt at dialogue, put away the challenge of creating a truly pluralistic sane society? If sanity hasn¡¯t come out of domination, obvious or subtle, it must be clear that we need to search for another way. And this may emerge out of a real dialogue.

Talking together will create a ground of a different kind beneath our feet. We will begin to understand the world and its many facets through the experiences of others. We will find ourselves living in a watchful mode, willing to change and move. Unfortunately today we continue to live protecting our domains. Instead of kings and emperors protecting their dominions, we have a differently distributed dominion on the earth today - the ' haves' guard their territories from the 'havenots', who have been reduced to the status of marauders on the edges of civilization. Equality, egalitarianism, access to benefits, etc., are terms that apply only within one's domains. Speaking about these is easy to people who already favourably positioned. Extending these principles to the rest is difficult. There are barriers that we will need to overcome as individuals, to enable a dialogue to happen around us and to participate in it. Some of these are:

  • shyness and timidity may stop one from voicing a view or a proposition different from one that is gaining strength.
  • we may easily accept an affirmation, one's own or another's.
  • we may take affront in the face of an opposing view or consideration.
  • we may be unwilling to move from a position taken or a view already expressed.

If we wish to offer future generations anything other than empty rhetoric, we need to begin somewhere as individuals. We need to step out, leave the bastions of security, and risk speaking our minds against the 'voice of the paradigm'. We must understand that this is the only way for our collective inner health and for a truly inclusive society, a society that is learning and not merely advertising. Living as part of such a society lays on our shoulders a responsibility to find a 'wholly different way of living', in the words of Krishnamurti. If we do not, we are, willy-nilly, a part of the dominant paradigm, and are stakeholders in the distributed dominion of the world.

With distributed apathy and sloth we are damming the flow of freshness. Every time I feel my opinion or insight is superior to another's, I am adding a little stone to the dam, or keeping one in place. It is strange that in man's history, he has always, despite material and literary progress, managed to ingeniously keep the thread of dominion alive. But maybe we are unwitting participants in this drama, sometimes quite against our will.

Talking together brings to the fore one of the greatest challenges. To listen to another I need to be open. To be open means completely suspending my view or idea. Is this at all possible if I think that my view is good or the best? I also do not listen when I feel that another¡¯s statement is an intrusion or a disturbance to my main agenda.

There was a young boy who wanted to say something to his father. The father was reading a book. He closed the book, with his finger at the place where he wanted to continue. The little boy said, 'I want you to listen to me without the finger in the book.'

Is awareness of limitation then a cornerstone for human dialogue? Does openness mean learning how to get the finger out of the book? Is it not important to doubt what I feel strongly, so that there is space, space for other views, even if they are difficult views? Can one learn to speak in such a way that there is space for others to join in rather than a closing up?

Also does openness demand from individuals the capacity to abandon all the knowledge one has? Education must surely offer the capacity to find out. And to find out one needs to be empty. So education and the educator need to be concerned with'emptying' and not only with the 'grasping'of an idea, a thought, a description. Educatedas we are to form conclusions and holdopinions, we become closed to listening, toreceiving what another says, to joining incollaboratively.

Can we be concerned that our highest responsibility is to live intelligently, which means, in simple terms, learning from the mistakes of the past and finding a new way ahead? Can we help each other stay awake? What does it mean to be watchful to see that another person stays awake? Does it mean constantly inviting ourselves and others to go beyond the stated, beyond conclusions? Refusing to become narrow, keeping the dialogue open to wider questions, seems vital. Is there a way of relating to all this and not falling prey to dependence or superiority?

These are not easy matters for us to act upon. However, if we do not move, we will stay within the circle, the circle of exploitative distributed dominion.