Dialogue and Mutual Understanding

The theme of the 2011 International year of Youth is; Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. Two very important components in the discussion of acknowledgement of the contribution young people make to society. Dialogue; relating to open channels of communication, promoting cross-generational, cross-cultural discussion. Mutual Understanding; implies a level of understanding with common frames of reference within the context that is known by two parties.

Over the coming months I will be engaging in dialogue with individuals and organisations working and living in various industries with diverse backgrounds and upbringings. For this particular piece I would like to focus on the ‘Mutual Understanding’ as a component of the International theme as I believe it is a very strong point of discussion when engaging in dialogue.

My question is related to frames of reference and the context of which an understanding can be achieved.

“Some people think intellect counts; knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion and empathy.”

Dean Koontz: American novelist and New York Times Best Seller.

I believe Dean Koontz is correct in the idea that intellect has it limitations without the five components being embraced, I also feel that the key to mutual understanding is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. A powerful concept, and in some cases an unfathomable task when reflecting on experiences individuals endure over the courses of their lives.

How can you truly understand a persons experience without experiencing their life and walking in their shoes? How can we encourage cross-cultural discussion without understanding the culture?

These are very important questions when embarking on a journey of understanding but it is these questions that can become road blocks in the path of compassion and empathy, if you do not posses the courage to seek their answers. Our understanding as human beings and individuals is interrelated with our frames of reference and experience. Therefore no two people can have the exact same understanding or experience in a situation. I find this concept exciting and challenging at the same time.

Plato Quotes:

“Human behavior flows from three main sources; desire, emotion and knowledge”

If Plato is right in assuming human behavior comes from desire, emotion and knowledge then it could be considered that one way to achieve Mutual Understanding is through breaking down experience, culture and frames of reference to their basic forms in relation to desire, emotion and knowledge; both of intellect and knowledge of self.

If all human behaviors come from these three sources than these are the basis for an understanding to be formed before empathy, a key component of Mutual Understanding can truly begin.

In that case, walking a mile in another’s shoes, or understanding a persons culture isn’t imperative to form a Mutual Understanding. It is the journey which is undertaken by you to understand how these experiences and beliefs are formed.

But how do you break down experiences, culture and frames of reference without trivialising and minimising these three areas?

Dialogue. Conversation. Engaging. Listening.

This is where the theme of the International year of Youth becomes fully realised. As Dialogue begins to play the lead role over Mutual Understanding. Courage, Friendship, Love are the key components of Dialogue.

The courage to allow yourself to connect with another, be vulnerable and honest, having the strength to test your own beliefs. Friendship is based on trust and allowing yourself to form an emotional linked through sharing experiences and culture and finally love, not romantic love but rather the love for life, the love of learning, the love that goes beyond race and religion.

I recently met a young mother, aged 19 who has recently undertaken a pre-employment course to enable her the skills to begin working within the hospitality industry. I’ve never met this young woman before but I listened as she shared her story of being a proud young mother who wants to support her child and ensure he is raised knowing the importance of an education and employment.

While I listened it was clear to me that I did not have the same pressures growing up as a 19yr old or even at 23 but I could relate to the pride this young woman has for her baby and the want for him to have a stable and supportive upbringing because that was the environment I grew-up in with my family. I could understand her want to successfully complete her training and attain a job because I’ve trained and I know the feeling of obtaining that job. It was through her ability to be courageous, show that vulnerability and trust me, a stranger with her struggles and aspirations that allowed me to connect and empathise through my own reflections and experiences. This is where a Mutual Understanding is created.

Dialogue and Mutual Understand; the theme for the International Year of Youth, just the beginning of an amazing journey, of which no two are the same, so share yours.


Share the obstacles or challenges you’ve encountered and overcome – here

Visit Generation.org.au to hear great stories of success – here

Watch the 2011 Australian Youth Representative Introduction Video – here

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3 thoughts on “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding

  1. “How can we encourage cross-cutural discussion without understanding culture?” I guess I can humbly say that I agree with you Benson. We are all making a journey towards the 2013 referendum but will the majority of Australians vote with a comprehensive understanding of the tough journeys of many (most) indigenous Australians. The First Australians still cop a lot of unfair criticisms as they make their way to what they see as a tolerable life rooted in what is left of their culture(s). Will the voters have achieved that empathy of which you speak?

    You have the energy of youth on your side and I am in no doubt will make a real difference. Others of us, indigenous and non-indigenous, have the experience of the elderly and have seen the prejudice against the First Australians over the last 60 years or so. Will the elders in the remote indigenous communities be able to leave this earth with a sense of pride and a feeling of the empathy towards them?

    A lot needs to be brought into the open to remove stereotypical images of and reactions to Aboriginal issues. I urge you to look up an article “Don’t play the race card: Isaacs”, The West Australian, Thursday, 19 May, 2011, p9 as an example of something that needs to be discussed and resolved in the area of underlying attitudes. I want to raise the matter on my blog but am nervous that it will seem presumptuous and too radical yet here is a member of the Stolen Generation bringing it out for all to contemplate. I keep asking myself the question: Do indigenous Australians deep down want non-indigenous Australians to pack up and go back to the countries of their origin or have we reached a place where the mutual understanding of which you write is truly achievable and within a generation?

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