How it Works
WE USUALLY START a dialogue group by talking about dialogue--talking it over, discussing why we are doing it, what it means.
Agenda: I propose that in a dialogue we are not going to have any agenda. As soon as we try to accomplish a useful purpose or goal, we will have an assumption behind it as to what is useful, and that assumption is going to limit us. We are not going to decide what to do about anything. This is crucial: otherwise we are not free. We must have an empty space where we are not obliged to do anything, nor to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything. It's open and free. As Krishnamurti used to say, "the cup has to be empty to hold something."
Leader: Nor are we going to have a leader. That's a harder problem as the whole society has been organized to believe that we can't function without leaders. (It may be useful to have a facilitator, whose function is to work him- or herself out of a job.)
Size: A group that is too small doesn't work very well. If five
or six people get together, they can usually "adjust" to each other so they don't say the things that upset each other. When you raise the number to about twenty, or up to forty, something different begins to happen--you begin to get what may be called a "microculture." You have enough people coming in from different subcultures so that they are a sort of microcosm of the whole culture.
Duration: The point is not to establish a fixed dialogue group forever, but rather one that lasts long enough to make a change. It may be valuable to keep the dialogue going for a year or two, and it is important to sustain it regularly. If you sustain it, it cannot avoid bringing out the participants' deep assumptions--which the group is not going to judge or condemn. It is simply going to look at all the opinions and assumptions as they surface.
When you sustain a dialogue you find that there will be a change in the people who take part. They themselves behave differently, even outside the dialogue. Eventually the change spreads. It's like the Biblical analogy of the seed--some are dropped in stony ground and some of them fall in the right place and they produce tremendous fruit.