The Spirit of Dialogue
6 x 9
63 figures, 27 boxes, 7 tables
6 x 9
63 figures, 27 boxes, 7 tables
We tend to approach conflict from the perspective of competing interests. A farmer’s interest lies in preserving water for crops, while an environmentalist’s interest is in using that same water for instream habitats. It’s hard to see how these interests intersect. But what if there was a different way to understand each party’s needs?
Aaron T. Wolf has spent his career mediating such conflicts, both in the U.S. and around the world. He quickly learned that in negotiations, people are not automatons, programed to defend their positions, but are driven by a complicated set of dynamics—from how comfortable (or uncomfortable) the meeting room is to their deepest senses of self. What approach or system of understanding could possibly untangle all these complexities? Wolf’s answer may be surprising to Westerners who are accustomed to separating religion from science, rationality from spirituality.
Wolf draws lessons from a diversity of faith traditions to transform conflict. True listening, as practiced by Buddhist monks, as opposed to the “active listening” advocated by many mediators, can be the key to calming a colleague’s anger. Alignment with an energy beyond oneself, what Christians would call grace, can change self-righteousness into community concern. Shifting the discussion from one about interests to one about common values—both farmers and environmentalists share the value of love of place—can be the starting point for real dialogue.
As a scientist, Wolf engages religion not for the purpose of dogma but for the practical process of transformation. Whether atheist or fundamentalist, Muslim or Jewish, Quaker or Hindu, any reader involved in difficult dialogue will find concrete steps towards a meeting of souls.
"Wolf is a heavyweight in the conflict resolution world...The Spirit of Dialogueencapsulates his global approach to transforming conflict developed over 25 years of practice…The text is not dense academic prose littered with formal citations; it is a conversation between Wolf and the reader. If one wonders what it is like to take a course, participate in a workshop, or be 'mediated' by Wolf, they will get a good feel for his mindful and practical approaches in this book."
"Aaron Wolf is an inspiring facilitator and mediator who applies the highest levels of emotional intelligence in his work. In The Spirit of Dialogue, he weaves his powerful tales from negotiations with spiritual perspectives on how hearts can connect across divides. A book anyone trying to help groups discover common ground will find of great benefit."
Daniel Goleman, author, Emotional Intelligence
"Rich with photographs and graphics and an easy, inviting style, The Spirit of Dialogue is a pleasure to read for anyone interested in how we are put together and how we interact. Using compelling examples from Wolf's practice as an international mediator, it brings the reader to the negotiating table to witness breakthroughs that seem inexplicable. But within the frameworks of philosophy, cosmology, and religion, we begin to see inside these mysteries of human behavior and appreciate the power within ourselves and each other to achieve the unlikely."
Lucy Moore, author, Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator
"In The Spirit of Dialogue, Aaron Wolf provides clear evidence that different faith traditions have much more in common than most people imagine, especially when it comes to explaining how body, heart, mind, and spirit must all be engaged for meaningful dialogue to lead to conflict resolution. Wolf offers a powerful argument for why and how rationality and spirituality must be fused. This is the only way to move from positions to interests to values to harmony."
Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and MIT Co-founder and Vice-Chair, Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
Preface and Appreciations
Chapter 1. The Boundaries of Science?
-A Tale of Two Vaticans
-How a Water Scientist Hit the Limits of His Worldview – Twice
Chapter 2. Healing the Enlightenment Rift
-The Enlightenment Rift and its Legacy
-The Transformation of Disputes
-Isn’t Religion at the Heart of Most Conflicts?
Chapter 3. Four Worlds and Four Scales
-The Four Worlds in the Suk
-Roots and Universality
-Experiencing the Four Worlds
-Four States, Four Scales
Chapter 4. Working with the Four Worlds
-Characteristics of the Four Worlds
-Putting the Structure to Work
-Applying the Framework, from the Suk to Switzerland
Chapter 5. Two Wolves and the Storm Within: Transforming Internal Conflict
-Learning to be Screamed at in Russian
-Walking the Path Within
-A Four Worlds Check-In
-The Worlds Swirling Within
-The World Without
-Back to Tbilisi
Chapter 6. Listening with the Heart: Transforming Interpersonal Conflict
-The Balcony and the Mekong Spirit
-The Four Worlds and the Other in the Mirror
-The Source of Anger – Within
-The Four Worlds and Their Expressions in Process
-Lev Shome’ah – A Listening Heart
-Transmitting from the Heart
-Walking the Path Together: Additional Tools
Chapter 7. Rama’s Sandals and Other Lessons for Small Groups
-“Bureau, Reclaim Thyself!”
-The Four Worlds and their Expression in Groups
-Wisdom Roots of Group Process
-Facilitating the Process
Chapter 8. A Leap of Faith: Complexity and Conflict
An accompanying PowerPoint presentation for The Spirit of Dialogue is available for educators using the book in their courses.
Click here to download the presentation for classroom use.
Debate surrounding the proposed repeal of the controversial Clean Water Rule is just one example of how competing interests tend to drive our approach to environmental conflicts. As we strive to balance environmental protections with economic development and respect for indigenous populations, strategies for finding common ground may come from an unexpected place—religion.
In The Spirit of Dialogue, trained mediator and scientist Aaron Wolf shows how ideas from faith traditions can pave the way toward successful conflict prevention, transformation, and resolution. Drawing on his experience mediating water conflicts for the World Bank and 12 years of travel and research, Wolf engages religion not for the purpose of dogma, but for the practical process of mediation.
Lucy Moore, author of Common Ground on Hostile Turf said The Spirit of Dialogue “brings the reader to the negotiating table to witness breakthroughs that seem inexplicable. But within the frameworks of philosophy, cosmology, and religion, we begin to see inside these mysteries of human behavior and appreciate the power within ourselves and each other to achieve the unlikely.”
Check out an excerpt from the book below.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
Oregon State University’s Aaron Wolf, in his studies of conflict and cooperation around international waterways, has found something both counter-intuitive and remarkable. Despite myths of “water wars,” cooperation is far more common than conflict when neighbors share a river and an aquifer, according to Wolf, author of the new Island Press book The Spirit of Dialogue.
This goes beyond simply cooperating over water. “Once cooperative water regimes are established…,” Wolf wrote in a 1999 essay, “they turn out to be tremendously resilient over time, even between otherwise hostile … states, and even as conflict is waged over other issues.”
Wolf’s point was put strikingly on display last month at a meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as representatives of the Unites States and Mexico gathered for a formal signing ceremony of an agreement over sharing the waters of the Colorado River.
The Colorado River is often described as being shared among seven states, but the number is really nine—seven in the United States and two in Mexico. U.S. farms and cities use most of the river’s water, and what little is left when it arrives at the U.S.-Mexico border near the towns of Algodones and San Luis is diverted for use by Mexican farms and cities. The last hundred miles of river channel between the border and the Sea of Cortez is usually dry.
The agreement includes provisions for the two nations to share shortages if (when?) drought and climate change shrink the river. The deal gives Mexican water users the ability to store their water in Lake Mead, the massive storage reservoir behind Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border, near the city of Las Vegas. Storage is critical to give Mexico flexibility in managing its water. U.S. water agencies will contribute under the deal to water efficiency improvements to Mexican infrastructure, with some of the saved water available for use in the United States.
Crucially, the agreement also sets aside water for habitat restoration in the dry river channel of Mexico.
The agreement was negotiated over a more than two-year period, but it is really rooted in more than a decade of increasingly deep collaboration between a community of water managers on both sides of the border. When the Trump administration took over in January, there was fear that the carefully crafted deal, so beneficial and important to communities on both sides of the border, would be sidelined by the heated rhetoric over free trade and immigration, over NAFTA and walls. But Wolf was right. Even as conflict raged over other issues, the trust and reciprocity built around the Colorado River proved remarkably resilient. The old saw that “water is for fighting over” was proven wrong again.
John Fleck is director of the University of New Mexico's Water Resources Program. For 25 years, he covered science and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal. He is author of Water is for Fighting Over...and Other Myths about Water in the West.