From Rainbow Rooms to Roundtables: My First Month at Kshetra Foundation



By Vaibhav Kumar Modi

For years, my life revolved around creating safe spaces. As a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion, I thrived in the vibrant chaos of community centres and the electric energy of drag shows. These spaces were, and still are, vital for marginalised voices to be heard and celebrated. However, the question of how to truly bridge divides and foster understanding beyond these walls often lingered.

Enter Kshetra Foundation for Dialogue. The structured approach of the Dialogic Method, a stark contrast to the free-flowing energy of a community gathering, initially felt like trading glitter and boas for spreadsheets. Yet, the core principle – creating space for diverse perspectives – resonated deeply. 

A Lesson in Listening:

My first month at Kshetra was a masterclass in patience. It often happens that when one is so eager to express, especially since words have been suppressed for so long in the grand scheme of life, the concept of listening does take a back seat. But that soon changed. Gone were the days of immediate solutions and passionate pronouncements. Instead, I was introduced to the intricate steps of the Dialogic Method, where active listening was the first step to ‘what’ before the ‘how’ of the issue. 

As someone accustomed to explaining, justifying, and defending my identity, the concept of truly listening to the “other” perspective felt refreshing. Conversations, instead of being vehicles for self-expression, became avenues for understanding the experiences and viewpoints that shaped the person sitting across from me. This shift mirrored the evolution of legal theorist Jurgen Habermas concept of the “ideal speech situation,” where participants engage in rational-critical debate from a position of mutual respect and a willingness to revise their views based on new information.

Finding Harmony in Dissonance:

It wasn’t always easy. Years of navigating complex social dynamics had instilled in me a combative instinct.  Habitually sizing up situations through the lens of “us vs. them” made it difficult to see the potential for collaboration. Disagreements felt like battles to be won, rather than opportunities for mutual learning. Thinking of underlying needs and wants instead of positions and expressions of stance, inclusive instead of exclusive, creating instead of compromising, responding instead of reacting, made conflict look like an opportunity rather than pain. The shift from rigid opposition to collaborative exploration was like discovering a melody amidst the din of discord. 

A New Tool for the Toolbox:

For years, dialogue as a process meant hearing others with the intent of reacting. Slowly, I began to see the Dialogic Method not as a replacement for this intent, but as a powerful tool in my personal and professional toolbox. Perhaps, the most impactful conversations aren’t just about raising voices, but about creating spaces where true dialogue can blossom. 

The Power of Dialogue

Embracing the Dialogic Method expanded my perspective on dialogue’s transformative potential. Here are three key revelations:

  • The Abundance of Solutions

Previously, social change felt like a zero-sum game. Winning meant my solution prevailed, losing meant my voice went unheard. The Dialogic Method shattered this limited perspective. By fostering a space for diverse viewpoints, it revealed a rich tapestry of potential solutions I had not considered. Dialogue fosters an “abundance mentality” where solutions multiply as perspectives converge.

  • The Power of Non-Binary Solutions: 

The world often presents issues as binary choices – left or right, win or lose. The Dialogic Method challenges this rigidity. By delving into the underlying interests and concerns of opposing viewpoints, it reveals the potential for “non-binary” solutions that address everyone’s needs. Imagine a community-factory conflict. Dialogue might uncover that the community fears pollution, while the owner worries about job losses. Exploring these concerns could lead to a solution like stricter environmental regulations alongside job retraining programs, a solution that transcends the initial binary of “shut down the factory” or “accept the pollution”. Dialogue allows us to move beyond the tyranny of either/or and embrace the fertile ground of “both/and.”

  • The Strength of Self-Interest Driven Approaches: 

Traditionally, social change efforts often relied on appealing to a sense of altruism or morality. The Dialogic Method highlighted the power of self-interest as a motivator for positive change. By fostering a deeper understanding of how an issue impacts everyone involved, dialogue can encourage cooperation driven by a recognition of mutual benefit. Taking the above community-factory example again, through dialogue, the parties might discover that transitioning to renewable energy not only combats climate change, but also creates new jobs and economic opportunities, fostering cooperation driven by national self-interest, not just environmental concerns. Dialogue allows us to leverage self-interest as a bridge to collective progress.

The Journey Continues:

My journey at Kshetra is far from over. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities to refine my skills of being dialogic. Witnessing the transformative power of dialogue firsthand has ignited a passion within me to share this approach with others. It came as a reminder that creating change requires not just passion, but also the patience to listen, the humility to learn, and the willingness to engage.This isn’t just a job; it’s a chance to rewrite narratives one conversation at a time. And for someone who thrives on creating spaces for connection, I envision a world where dialogue becomes the cornerstone of social interaction, where echo chambers are replaced by circles of understanding, and where collaboration, not conflict, fuels progress.