Every once in awhile, if we are fortunate, we meet an individual that intuition tells us is destined for great things.
My friend Ashok Panikkar is one of those individuals. Ashok, who left Boston and returned to his native Bangalore two years ago, founded Meta-Culture, Bangalore’s first center for dialogue and conflict transformation. When I interviewed Ashok in July 2005, he described his goals for Meta-Culture:
Meta-Culture is in the process of creating India’s first integrated conflict management group. The vision is to help people develop skills of discourse that are non-adversarial and built around the principles of dialogue rather than debate (even though there are situations where, for instance, Socratic debate can play a very useful part in helping to clarify ideas and challenge the mind). In doing so we can change the climate and culture of discourse so that individuals, organizations and societies can respond to differences with understanding and skill instead of doing so from anger, ignorance, fear, animosity or misplaced righteousness.
Our mission is to engage in or promote activities that can help advance this vision. To this end we are engaged in consulting, research and education in the areas of ADR, especially mediation; facilitation; coaching; design of conflict and dispute management systems; and consensus building. Right now our focus is to establish Meta-Culture as a sustainable consulting practice. Very soon we will be setting up a separate division that will service the NGO and governmental sectors.
Unsurprisingly, Meta-Culture today is thriving, keeping Ashok and his staff busy. One of its projects, Meta-Culture Dialogics, a non-profit trust, recently attracted the attention of India media.
The purpose of this project has been to promote dialogue among Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist groups to discuss matters of importance over the course of 10 sessions. These sessions were not designed to get people “holding hands and singing Kumbaya” in the hopes of simply sweeping differences under the rug, as Ashok told me in a recent phone call.
According to Ashok, who was interviewed by The Hindu, “We are not into preaching peace, tolerance and harmony. Instead, we provide a platform for communities to talk about what is bothering them the most about the other community” and to ask each other the hard questions to give issues the healthy airing that honest dialogue can produce.
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