The Dialogic Citizen – Creating a Culture of Democracy

  • Panikkar, Ashok


Representative democracy, with elections and the orderly transferring of power, will not guarantee that complex differences can be addressed and resolved. A sustainable democratic state requires a culture that is built upon the core values of democracy- liberty, equality, and justice.

This culture, amongst other things, is predicated upon a leadership and a citizenry that is willing to respect diversity and participate actively in civic engagement, debate and dialogue. Such a culture and society has the capacity to navigate and negotiate through ideological differences and clashing interests.

It is our experience that conflict resolution processes such as Dialogue, Mediation, Consensus Building, and Restorative Justice are vital tools that can be used to strengthen democratic societies by creating better mechanisms to address differences. At Meta-Culture we have, for more than a decade, experimented with creative and innovative ways to strengthen the value systems and cultures of democracy within communities.

Some of our projects include a year-long inter-faith dialogue process; a multi-year multi-stakeholder process bringing together stakeholders from the garment sector to talk about contentious issues; and various community projects bringing together diverse groups and perspectives.

Constructive civic participation nurtures and strengthens democratic societies. In this light, these two recent projects provide significant learning:

  1. Socrates’ Last Stand, where deep and honest conversations about political and cultural topics are held at bars, cafes and educational institutions using critical and dialogic thinking.
  1. Alternative Futures Dialogue, the case study for this paper, is a seven-month long facilitated dialogue that brings together advocates and activists from differing perspectives and ideologies to talk about our collective future and where we are heading. This Dialogue is an attempt to nurture citizen leaders who are imbued with core values and equipped with the tools of dialogue and participation.

This paper will talk about our experiments in building the tools and skills that are necessary to sustain democracy.