April 22nd Intercultural Conversation

“Rethinking Freedom in a Polarized World”

Summary by Madeline Bailey

This month’s Intercultural Conversation hosted by the Center for Intercultural Dialogue featured presentations by Dr. Sharon Schuman of the University of Oregon English department and Reverend Dan Bryant of Eugene’s First Christian Church.

Dr. Schuman shared with the group her analysis of dialogic freedom, an idea that challenges traditional understandings and puts forth the claim that the source of true freedom can be found within the sincere willingness to see from another’s perspective. She explained that dialogic freedom is “a two-sided act, chosen within a field of forces for unity and chaos, among the perspectives of others.” She emphasized that “we need a concept of freedom according to which we are freer the more we are able to see from the perspectives of others and take action in a world co-determined by them.”

Dan Bryant offered a response to Dr. Schuman’s work and related the act of dialogic freedom to the theory of process thought. Process thought views life as being composed of events, and each event impacts and changes everything else. People are the sum of all that has ever happened to them, including: “every action, every decision they have made, and every feeling they have ever had as well as every feeling they have received.” In terms of dialogic freedom, process thought would dictate that those who engage in many honest and diverse interactions with others will become increasingly complex. Dan framed this by saying that this complexity should be understood as “harmony,” and is a state for which we all should strive.

The conversation that followed these presentations brought up some
important questions:

How do we understand freedom?

If everyone began to truly empathize with others and see their
perspective to the best of their abilities, how would this affect the
democratic process? How would polarizing issues be resolved?

How does the conception of dialogic freedom fit in with hate speech?
How will attempting to understand a hateful perspective be productive
and freeing?