Decolonizing the Dialogue

By Zara Houshmand

The earliest Mind & Life Dialogues were private gatherings where His Holiness the Dalai Lama engaged with a small group of scientists at his own residence in the small town of Dharamsala in the Indian Himalaya. A series of books reported on the Dialogues, but over time it seemed valuable to share the immediate experience of the conversation more widely. In 2003, the 11th Dialogue was held publicly for the first time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston, Massachusetts. At that event, and all subsequent public meetings, the aim has been to recreate on stage for the benefit of a large audience the intimacy and lively, informal engagement of the earliest meetings.


In Botswana, audience members questioned this format for the first time: Why were they not included more fully as participants in what was advertised as a dialogue? The limited time allowed for audience Q&A was clearly not enough. It was a humbling lesson. For all of the Mind & Life Institute’s experience in mediating a cross-cultural dialogue over decades, Africa was a new cultural context where different expectations prevail. The concept of ubuntu itself suggests that all voices should be heard respectfully. As Mhondoro Mandaza Kandemwa said in his opening words, “I see that there are no hierarchies here, no VIPs when I look through the eyes of ubuntu peacemaking and healing, as is required by a spirit of oneness.”

In an effort to include more voices, we are inviting contributors here in this forum to continue the exchange of ideas that began in Botswana.

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