Coexistence and Transformative Mediation

Helen Chauncey

The Coexistence Initiative

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A:It's taking us a while to get it. In particular because much by way of the approach to coexistence there is a vast embodied theoretical writings on coexistence. Much of it is coexistence despite identity. Then there is a negative word in some way or another, or a passive word; so there is coexistence, verb-identity. The verb is often negative or passive. You can have in some ways very destructive passive coexistence. You could argue this by using the United States as an example that segregation was a form of coexistence. Two clearly distinct groups of people by law coexisted but they did so under conditions of what I would call passive, or cold coexistence. We would argue that that's not a model. People weren't killing each other; although, there were certainly people killed. We would argue that where we are beginning to move in the United States we don't necessarily hold the United States up as a model. We are not trying to Americanify the world. Our children are better off if when they are school or in the workplace if they look around and see that everyone is exactly like themselves. They say to themselves, "I am missing something, this isn't quite good enough." They are enriched by being in a multicultural nation, a multicultural workplace setting, and a multicultural school. So it is a positive goal rather than a negative one.

Q: It sounds a little bit like transformative mediation on a very large scale, recognition of the other and empowerment of the self through that recognition.

A: Yes. The other is a phrase that we are not worried about using. Whereas the negative phrases we explicitly try to move away from. Understanding and embracing the other is a critical part of what we are doing. The first half of that is in particular embedded in the work of the people who have been doing tolerance training, multiculturalism, and anti-bias training. You should study another culture and they are absolutely right. That is essential. Then there is one more step which is to take what you now know and figure out how to make that other interact with yourself so that other isn't at arms length. This should be part of your daily interaction in such a way that you won't be afraid to cease to be you and other won't be afraid that it will cease to be other. You are actively interacting on a daily basis.

Q: Which ideally, would make both sides richer?

A: Absolutely. That's the goal and we firmly believe that it does make both sides richer, or all sides if you have A, B, C, and D as your other. That's the key, there has to be an incentive for this. We think the incentive is authentically there. We do not think that we are creating another organization like other organizations in particular in the tolerance and multi-culturalism field who aren't creating a fake goal, to justify what they're doing. In examples where there have been steps toward a positive embrace of other or a positive approach to coexistence, the cultures are richer. You are better off, you are enriched if you are apart of that cultural dynamic, but it is to underscore a word that you just used; because it is highly transformative. We have short-term activities and goals, but the long-term goal, the ultimate litmus test is one that is going to take many, many years, because we really are talking about transforming how people understand; in many ways the human condition. What we're arguing in that regard is that transformation will not produce a homogenous identity. It's never going to happen. What it will produce is a positive and constructive way to interact with other.