It was an exciting occasion for us meeting with Dr Vamik Volkan, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, on 20th April 2018 in Bregenz. The meeting took place in the course “Intercultural Dialogue” run by Sharon du Plessis-Schneider, MSW.
It was a dialogue on equal terms – even though we were unexpected guests. Vamik Volkan was expecting a group of children from Africa. He was most surprise when it was us, instead. He talked about his research that focuses on large group identity. In addition, we heard about his experience of bringing influential people from opposing groups together in a transparent and accountable manner. This means that the governments were aware of the dialogues that took place. When 2 representatives from the Soviet Union and USA were brought together some of Mr. Gorbachev's representatives participated.
International Dialogue Initiative is a charitable organization established 2007 by Dr Volkan to foster psychologically-informed dialogue as a means of addressing societal conflict and finding a pathway to peace: www.internationaldialogueinitiative.com
We found what Vamik Volkan said to be interesting and relevant for social work. In particular, the following recommendation he made could be helpful for practice. That is why we would like to share it: "If there are differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’, which arouse conflicts, then instead of accusing them, bring people together. Let people tell their story. Talk to them about human psychology before speaking about human rights. We are all different and it is ok. It’s good to be different. Make "swiss cheese boarders" in your relationship with other people and between countries. Speak with other people, don’t make stringent rules. In many cases that could change everything. And, work on it. Human psychology is not a push button, it will take fifty years, maybe more, so be patient.”