Bolivia: Change starts with you

In 2012, the second module of the Bolivian Dialogue School was drawing to a close and around 20 people were gathered on chairs in a circle.

The trainer had suggested that each participant should share what he or she would take away from the Dialogue School. Sonia, a native of the ethnic Leco people who runs an organisation for indigenous women in the region, asked to speak.

She looked another participant straight in the eye and said:

‘In this module I observed that I was afraid of you, Pedro. And, turning her gaze to the group, she continued: I was afraid of him because he went to university and is very articulate. I listened to him – and then I realised that we both have a story, we both have children and we are both learning something here. Now I don’t want to be afraid of you anymore, I’d like to get to know you even better, I’d like to get to know everyone’.

This moment was a milestone in the process. We all experienced a change in the way in which the two of them connected and in which each of them bonded with the group. Pedro’s watchful, aloof attitude changed into an outgoing, respectful and even humorous manner. Sonia’s shyness gave way to active participation, engaging with herself and the group.

We’re all familiar with the moment when something clicks, or the Aha! moment. It’s the moment which, deep within us, alters the significance of an aspect of reality while at the same time triggering a whole new host of insights. It comes as a surprise, a discovery, hence the expression, click or aha!

Eli, who attended the Dialogue School in 2014, described it like this: ‘When something clicks, I become aware of something which might have already been there, or which pops up and becomes apparent at that precise moment. It’s something that wakes up your neurons: Ah, I’d never thought of it like that before! Rather than shutting yourself off or merely accepting a situation as a given, when the click happens you think: Yes, that might be true.’

The click represents an expansion of awareness, a kind of internal shift during which we broaden and deepen our view of other people, of the subject that is occupying us, of history or the future: ‘I used to construe and view power relations as something external, something outside me, something involving other people... of course involving other people above me too, but I saw myself in the position of a subordinate. I viewed myself as somebody who is subjugated to other people. But, on a very subtle level, I became aware that power and control rest within me too. For example, I interrupt because I think what I am saying has more worth than what other people are saying. I realised that I get annoyed when things don’t go as I expect, because I think my way of doing things is better than everyone else’s. It’s painful to see myself that way, I don’t like seeing myself like that, but I can also tell that seeing myself makes me stronger, because now I have a better understanding of what’s going on, because I’m more aware of what we want to change.’

This broadening of complex understanding also opens up new or different courses of action and brings about a change in the ‘realm of possibilities’.

Arthur Battram, of the Santa Fe Institute, describes it as follows [our translation]: ‘The realm of possibilities is the place where all our ideas live before they become reality. The realm of possibilities is just as real as an organisation is real: it is created in language. By exploring ideas, one is exploring the realm of possibilities. It’s not about a simple analogy but a description of the seeking process which happens in the mind. Normally, when one is seeking something in the realm of possibilities, one is seeking only within small, familiar terrain, but if we don’t venture outside the zone of what is predictable, we will never discover those (new) ideas.’

He adds: ‘Dialogue provides the fundamental mechanism for creating new realities. My own perspective on the possibilities is only a small part of the whole picture. If we add your perspective and that of other people who belong to our ‘community’, we can hugely expand our realm of possibilities.’

Evolving dialogue functions like a transformer, multiplying the possibilities of experiencing such moments of reinterpretation and broader realms of possibilities. During shared reflection processes, fresh collective insights are gained which emerge as new pacts and are preserved through encounters and experiences of reciprocal enrichment. This is an experience which goes way beyond simplistic linear rationality.

They are not changes which ‘repeat’ themselves, but changes which ‘radiate’. 

During a Dialogue School in 2014, we welcomed four participants who came from the same community and were in a local conflict with one another. Representing an urban and a rural organisation for indigenous people, a group of ‘interculturals’ and the municipal administration, they had four different perspectives of economic development in the community. Thanks to our methods and practical exercises, the four warring groups evolved, over the course of the Dialogue School, into a group with a new, collective insight: they decided to use their different perspectives to make ONE video, which was to be distributed for further dialogue in the community. In the end, the mayor made his communications team available for this task and gave support with the final version.

When asked whether the Dialogue School could contribute to social transformation, one of them replied: ‘I see us as the little sparks flying off the torch. For everyone to benefit from this type of success, we must get more people on board with the process, many more individuals, many more little sparks who can bring light to different places. That would be success.’

Experiences like this suggest to us that, when people get together to reflect on and question assumptions which determine how we perceive, interpret and shape the world, those people also have the power to change reality.
In this way, we ourselves become the change that the world needs. 

Carolina Gianella, psychologist and mediator, CPS expert
German translation: Evelyn Hartig, landscape planning graduate and journalist, CPS Programme Coordinator

Info.Box Project

The CPS has been working in Bolivia since 2008. It supports government bodies and civil society actors in the Bolivian lowlands with the resolution of social and environmental conflicts, through intercultural dialogue processes and due process of law.

The Dialogue School brings together representatives of various groups to engage in dialogue, overcome mutual prejudices and promote, within their group and with others, a willingness to engage in dialogue, foster mutual understanding and resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.

Further Information