Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Courage to be Vulnerable

Last week a bold step was taken by the Commodore Bainimarama in the first step of the President’s Political Dialogue Forum. Although the PPDF is sanctioned by His Excellency the President with the assistance of the Commonwealth and United Nations, it is Commodore Bainimarama who must now remove his armour and allow himself to be vulnerable and open to others if this process is to have any chance of success.

At the same time the parties invited to the PPDF need to ensure that they focus not only on their own political survival but the hopes and realities of the constituents they will compete to represent when elections finally take place.

Webster’s dictionary defines dialogue as, “a frank [no pun intended] exchange of ideas or views on a specific issue in an effort to attain mutual understanding.”

While there is a fixed agenda for the forum, the inclusion of the “democratic experience in Fiji” should provide the space for such a frank exchange of views. However for any “exchange” to take place, those sitting at the table on which the future of Fiji rests need to practice active listening – taking onboard what other parties are saying, rather merely waiting for their chance to speak.

The decision to include 15 representatives of civil society and non-governmental organisations is also to be commended. Although the process in which these representatives will be chosen may be somewhat flawed, the fact that they are being given room at the table allows more voices, particularly of women, young people and all minority communities to be heard by those who will shape the future of our country.

At this point the question that needs to be asked is, what about the largest non-governmental and civil society organisations in the country – the faith-based organisations? The Methodist Church can be seen as Fiji’s largest civil society organisation, and with other churches and religious organisations probably have the biggest mandate out of any other CSO or NGO. Will their voices also be heard?

After all, as Jane Goodall, the British anthropologist, wrote “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right.”

St. James wrote, "The wisdom that is from above is... peaceable" (James 3:17 NKJV). In “The Message,” Eugene Peterson paraphrases this Scripture: "Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

Our representatives to the PPDF can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoys its results only if they do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour" (James 3:17-18 TM). Notice, getting along with others can be "hard work".

To those who have the accepted the responsibility to genuinely enter into dialogue with those you would not normally sit at the table with, if you find yourself getting worked up about some issue, ask yourself, "If I give in to these emotions what will the result be?" When you're stressed out you lose your joy, and when you lose your joy you lose your strength because "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10 NKJV). So those who will speak and listen for us at the PPDF need to pray, exercise self-control, and keep their peace.

However one of the most important decisions in the build up to the PPDF is by the news media. Since 2006 the news media in Fiji has found itself struggling with its role as a channel of information for the public and having a peace /democracy agenda. If this process of dialogue is to truly bear a lasting fruit, journalists and editors need to ask themselves where their focus is. Is it going to be on little facts or a greater truth?

Little facts will rely on leaked information, comments while the dialogue forum is still underway – much the same as giving process reports on any experiment. The focus on the greater truth will look at the end result of the experiment and the outcomes of the dialogue process. The sharing of public views and information for the sake of transparency is a very important part of this process. At the same time the respecting of the boundaries of a “sacred space” in which people can safely and freely express themselves is also integral to this process.

There is much that can happen to compromise the dialogue process, by participants, supporters, observers and those merely waiting the outcome. However one thing is certain – we stand on the precipice, at the edge of the abyss. Only by building bridges of peace and unity can we hope to cross safely over to the new dawn that awaits the all people of Fiji.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the courage to be open to the views of those different from you.

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