Letters & Opinion

From Debate To Dialogue

NATIONAL Development Involves the Commitment and Participation of Everyone.

General elections are due next year and electioneering has started. There have been calls from individuals and organisations for public debates between contending politicians, in particular, the leaders of the ruling party and opposition. The thinking behind calls for public debate is that such open discussion is an important manifestation of democratic participation: It allows the public to analyse and even question the policy positions of contending politicians.

Debates are useful for sharing information and establishing positions on various issues. The problem with debates, however, is that the rest of us remain largely as observers to a discussion that may, or may not, reflect our positions. Equally important is that debates never answer the question, “What happens next?”

In the context of national development we ought to be engaging in dialogue, rather than debate, in a process that requires the commitment and participation of all of us. Some persons may argue that this is idealistic and impractical. In any event, representative democracy allows others to speak on our behalf. Besides, with so many “stake-holder” conferences, expert groups, planning and development commissions, why this call for more dialogue?

The simple answer is that only through dialogue can we come to consensus and chart a way forward without certain groups feeling left out. Politics is divisive and political parties are even more fractious. Parties make it possible for one group (or a coalition of groupings) to decide for the majority. We’ve used that approach since the 1930s and it can hardly be said they are a resounding success as agents of social cohesion.

And this is precisely the point: We need to build social cohesion in order to face current and emerging challenges. Today’s society is not what everyone wants. There are obvious disparities that result in hardship (quite extreme in some cases) and other limitations that militate against our progress.

How are we going to deal with these problems if we do not listen to each other in the first place? Why should the ideas of one group (whether political; religious; business or civil) prevail over the rest of society? This is not what is intended in a democratic society, nor is it quite useful as a mechanism for building commitment and participation.

Listening to each other is a necessary but not sufficient condition of the process of dialogue. How we listen to each other is the other fundamental component. Here are three conditions that are necessary for meaningful dialogue:

• Listen with an open heart – Be genuinely willing to listen to the other person’s story
• Listen with an open mind – Suspend all judgement, opinion or advice
• Listen with open arms – Be willing to change or to build something new

As a society are we prepared for a dialogue with such a mindset? Everyone has an opinion on how to make things better. How do you do that and not exclude the other person’s opinion?

This article is intended as a proposal and an appeal to the citizens of this country. Let us have a one-day national dialogue to chart the future of our nation. Here is a suggested framework for how this dialogue can take place:

1. The day of the dialogue will be declared a public holiday
2. The event will last a minimum of five hours and will be broadcast live on all media
3. The public will be allowed a minimum of one hour to express their views and to have these views incorporated into the dialogue
4. Eight groups of five individuals will form the core of the event
5. Each of the island’s ten major communities will be represented by one young lady and one young man (for the largest representative group)
6. The two major political parties will each have three representatives, one of whom must be the leader of his respective party. The two leaders will sit together in one of the groups.
7. The business sector will have four representatives
8. The Public Sector will have six representatives (Ideally comprising heads of education, health, agriculture, culture, finance, planning)
9. Civil society will have four representatives

The meeting will have two major goals:

1. To agree and commit to a plan of action for resolving the country’s principal problems as they relate to the following:-
• Poverty and income inequality
• Unemployment
• Education for the world of work
• Business development
• Sustainable agriculture
• Chronic diseases
• Affordable housing
• Cultural identity

2. To develop a prototype or model to test the proposed solutions to each of the eight issues listed above and to set a time frame for the experiment.

There is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is a leading authority on social and individual transformation. He should be invited to facilitate the meeting and to work with us in this process of transformation.

My humble offer is to coordinate the logistics of this meeting, free of charge, if we agree to the overall proposal. It’s time we got serious about wanting to ‘make things better’ in Saint Lucia.

By Lynden Long

1 Comment

  1. Lynden,

    What you describe as “debate” and “dialogue” are one of the same. It’s only the smoke and mirrors you employ which make them look different!

    The essential question after either event is rightly, as you asserted after describing debate, “…What happens next?”

    No difference, in either case! The winners take their mandate and govern as they choose, as usual, like any boar would when feeding at the public trough.

    Want to get the results desired out of the consensus you sought? Deliverables attached to legally binding contracts which stipulate no recompense for stewards unless they meet the terms of the contract.

    Till then, all you would be doing is urinating against the prevailing winds of corruption.

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