By Akhil Suresh
The Dialogic Method is a great tool. It transforms the way we look at situations and craft solutions that may not even have been thought of, otherwise. From effective communication between two individuals to systemic changes at national or international levels – all fall under the possible outcomes using DM as a tool. But what Kshetra has always envisioned has been the idea that the Dialogic Method is not just a tool but also a learned behaviour, or a ‘way of life’. A recurring observation that has come up through all of Kshetra’s deliveries is that the participants feel good after each workshop or game event. This ‘sense of goodness’ encompasses an idea of well-being, an idea of flourishing oneself. This feeling is observed to increase as one starts to use the DM in their daily lives. DM is known to create value. The aspect of human wellbeing or the feeling of ‘perceived goodness’ can be an offshoot of the end outcomes created through the framework’s application. But is it limited to framework outcomes? Or does the DM have an intrinsic effect on the wellbeing of the ones who harness it?
The emergence of the field of Positive Psychology has transformed the way we look at the human experience of wellbeing and happiness. Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of the field, has identified Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments as the five components of wellbeing or ‘flourishing’. Acronymed as the ‘PERMA’ model,1 Seligman’s insight into human flourishing is universal and remains valid for all people throughout the globe, over and above differences in culture, education, age or gender. Ever since its establishment as an evidence-based approach in the sphere of behavioural sciences, the PERMA model has been a highly employed tool in understanding, assessing and developing strategies to improve what was earlier a subjective phenomena. What does this say about DM’s potential direct impact on human wellbeing and flourishing? Let’s look at how the Dialogic Method, when adopted as a way of life, possibly impacts each component that determines human wellbeing.
Emotions were not supposed to be categorised as positive or negative, as far as they helped us. The feeling of fear supplemented by a skyrocketing heartbeat and heightened blood flow once helped our ancestors run away and escape the wild animals they were chased by. As we have moved over from our caveman era, hungry wolves of the woods have been replaced by our insecurities, work pressures, relationship concerns and financial difficulties among a lot more other threats. This is why our embedded psychological and physiological reactions to stress are of little to no use when we deal with the problems of modern life. Therefore, it is important to at least balance or better still replace the negative emotions with positive ones. Seligman in his book ‘Learned Optimism’ talks about how optimistic people are able to evoke positive feelings faster and easier than those who lack this attitude2. This attitude of abundance is an integral part of the Dialogic Method. Even though it comes to the module’s surface at the third stage of the 3-step model: Solve g, one would not be wrong to say that the entire method is threaded like beads on the twine of an abundance mindset. With the concepts of emotional literacy and self-regulation coming up as tools along with this attitudinal shift, it would be surprising if people do not experience an upsurge of positive emotions through the DM.
An optimal level of involvement in life activities marked by a balance between the person’s skills and the difficulty level of the situation marks the phenomenon of ‘engagement’ which contributes to the overall well being along with growth of an individual. Csikszentmihalyi theorised how engagement in its maximal intensity creates a state of ‘flow’3 characterised by the features of highest productivity and enjoyability. Self-determination, one among the principles of DM, engulfs an individual’s willingness to engage in situations. DM upskills and instil confidence in individuals, providing a methodology to engage in complex situations, which are plotted even at the lowest and highest axes in the graph of individual skill and situation’s difficulty levels, respectively. Being ‘Dialogic’ means that you are actively listening, participating, and using your problem-solving skills. It’s like a mental workout that keeps you engaged in the process! The relatedness is not limited to DM’s theoretical base as Kshetra’s experiential learning modules are crafted strategically to incorporate a high level of participant involvement as well!
Humans are inherently social creatures. Not feeling ‘belonged’ to the world they live is the greatest nightmare for mankind. Friends, family, religion, community- are all dear to him for they serve as his means of experiencing this ‘belongingness’. Empathy, as a skill or virtue, whether considerate or transactional, helps people relate to others. A study led by Mingzhong Wang explored how empathy makes even children more liked among their peers4. People who listen and ask the right questions tend to develop better relationships with others. Establishing and developing trust with others is a huge barrier that limits our willingness to nurture social connections. Although the end objective of trust in Dialogue is not to build relationships or help people, trust in any form correlates with a greater potential for positive relationships. This potential is a part of each dialogically dealt situation by virtue of both its final output of a transformed situation and the process of mapping people, uncovering emotions and understanding perspectives. DM emphasises the idea that relationships or collaborations can be a way of achieving one’s interests and why one shouldn’t adjust oneself for the sake of relationships. “Believing most actions are not driven by altruistic desires makes true friendships and loving relationships more valuable.” This statement from Daniel Tippens’ article5 is a testimonial to the monumental effect nurturing one’s interests through relationships has on enhancing its quality rather than diminishing it.
An artist who finds meaning in solitude might not find meaning in the exuberance of a crowd performance. People find meaning in the things they value. The Dialogic Method encourages people to explore the deeper reasons, values and motivations of both others and themselves, thus paving way to fill an enormous cognitive disability of us, humans who are accustomed to ignore our values and methods of meaning-making when choosing what we want. The very strong prominence of value creation in its process is the rationale to how DM helps people increase their ground for meaning-making. DM through its principles thus, increases the opportunity to create meaning while also aiding the exploration of one’s internal process of meaning-making. After all, meaning is not intrinsic to life, which is why it would be right to say you create it rather than find it!
Leading an army of soldiers to victory in a war is a great accomplishment. Sometimes, getting out of bed in the morning is as great of an achievement as well! These accomplishments consolidate the last component of the well-being model. DM, which begins by understanding what needs to be accomplished, ends in developing and implementing actions directed towards accomplishing the same, but only with a high possibility of accomplishing much more than what was intended to! What the DM also provides is a methodology to evaluate the sustainability of the methods chosen to accomplish the goal. Furthermore, after attending a workshop of Kshetra, you leave with a feeling of great accomplishment of having learnt a beautiful way of life that helps you accomplish even more! Why wouldn’t it make you feel good?
Dialogue works great as a tool, but is even better when it becomes a way of life. By helping you experience positive emotions, engage with situations, build relationships, find meaning and accomplish goals, Dialogue makes you a happier individual. While ‘Dialoguing’ things out next time, remember that you’re not just transforming situations- you’re blossoming your wellbeing- in five different ways! Dialogue isn’t just a means to an end; it’s also an end in itself!
2 Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Learned optimism. New York, A.A. Knopf.
3 Csikszentmihalyi, M., Abuhamdeh, S., & Nakamura, J. (2005). Flow. In A. J. Elliot & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 598–608). Guilford Publications. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2005-08058-032
4 Mingzhong Wang, Jing Wang, Xueli Deng, Wu Chen (2019)
Why are empathic children more liked by peers? The mediating roles of prosocial and aggressive behaviors, Personality and Individual Differences, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886919301382#:~:text=These%20results%20suggested%20that%20empathic,important%20requisites%20for%20peer%20acceptance.