The power of conversations
In the movie Before Midnight, the protagonists Jesse and Celine go through a rough patch in their relationship. The couple constantly argues over Hank (Jesse’s son from his previous marriage), and Celine’s career choices. While Celine wants to focus on considering a job with the French government, Jesse wants to move to Chicago to be closer to Hank. With their relationship hanging by a thread, the couple decide to talk it out and resolve their issues. And, they reconcile.
Had Jesse and Celine not talked things through, they would have probably given up on their relationship and gone their separate ways. As portrayed beautifully in the movie, conversations mend relationships and strengthen them. Conversations not only mend and strengthen personal relationships, but also have the potential to bring people and communities together. Take the ‘Me Too Movement’ (#MeToo) on the internet, which is centred around creating awareness on sexual harassment and assault against women in workplaces. Uniting women from all walks of life, #MeToo encourages them to break their silence, without having to feel ashamed. Pushing them to talk openly about sexual abuse, this initiative attempts to make society understand the magnitude of this issue.
In countries like India, where rape and sexual assaults are swept under the rug, and seldom reported, #MeToo has given voice to countless women who might otherwise never talk about it. And this transformation in the attitudes of women is in itself a huge change, helping foster a feeling of solidarity.
By engaging people in dialogue, conversations influence their perceptions, even help shed societal prejudices and preconceived notions. All in all, be it women’s empowerment or freedom of speech, anti-bullying or gay rights movements, conversations are at the root of any societal change.
Several organizations and NGOs use conversations as a tool to bring about social change. For example, the Human Rights Campaign is an LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the US. Through conversations on social media, they create awareness about same-sex marriage, and strive to change the prevailing perception about the LGBTQ community in society. After conducting many awareness campaigns, they organised a poll when the Marriage Equality Act was passed in the US in 2011. The poll results revealed that 60 percent of the population was okay with the idea of gay marriages. This brought about a sea change in the society’s perception of queer identities and relationships.
One thing is clear. The more we have such conversations, the more we begin to understand, accept and respect one another. What’s more, conversations eliminate assumptions and ensure everything is clear-cut and transparent. And this is much required, especially between the administration and its citizens. “Conversations motivate both the administration and the people to bring about civic change. They both collaborate and become active members of the society,” says Sapna Karim, a coordinator of Civic Participation in Janaagraha, a Bangalore-based NGO.
Just the way conversations bridge the gap between an administration and its citizens, dialogues can clear the air between countries. Proactive dialogues have the potential to broker peace between two nations that might be at loggerheads. In the book Dialogue and Conflict Resolution Potential and Limits, NUPI (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs), researchers Pernille Rieker and Henrik Thune write about several cases from around the globe, where dialogue helped abate tension and restore peace, thereby resolving international conflicts. The Jasmine Revolution, the Russo-Georgian War, religious tensions in Egypt after the Arab Spring are a few examples, where dialogue brought about reconciliation and restoration of peace.
From resolving strained relationships at an international level to mending relationships on a personal level, conversations play an integral role in bringing about positive changes in society. Uniting people, societies, and nations, conversations bring about solidarity by eliminating preconceived notions and changing perceptions. As precursors of change, conversations empower individuals and nations alike to voice concerns and find win-win solutions to problems.