FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Each participant must define himself. Only the Jew, for example, can define what it means to be a Jew. The rest can only describe what it looks like from the outside. Moreover, because dialogue is a dynamic medium, as each participant learns, he will change and hence continually deepen, expand, and modify his self-definition as a Jew–being careful to remain in constant dialogue with fellow Jews. Thus it is mandatory that each dialogue partner define what it means to be an authentic member of his own tradition.
Conversely–the one interpreted must be able to recognize herself in the interpretation. This is the golden rule of interreligious hermeneutics, as has been often reiterated by the “apostle of interreligious dialogue,” Raimundo Panikkar. For the sake of understanding, each dialogue participant will naturally attempt to express for herself what she thinks is the meaning of the partner”s statement; the partner must be able to recognize herself in that expression. The advocate of “a world theology,” Wilfred Cantwell Smith, would add that the expression must also be verifiable by critical observers who are not involved.
Most of us don”t like it when someone tells us what we”re supposed to be, or believe, or do. And that”s especially irritating when it comes from someone who doesn”t really understand the complexities or variations that are a part of living out our real lives. One of the most common illusions in interreligious dialogue is that religious traditions are monolithic– that everyone who claims a particular religious tradition will affirm the same thing or have the same experiences and perspectives.
Many who are involved in interfaith dialogue find it more difficult at times to talk with those “of their own house” than with those of a different tradition. There is tremendous diversity even within a single tradition, and when we enter into dialogue with one another, we must not forget that fact.A technique that is used in communication exercises, such as with couples counseling or community dialogues, is to ask someone to repeat back what they have heard before responding to it. Often we filter what another has said through our own preconceptions and prejudices. Before we can enter into genuine conversation, we must ensure that we understand each other as we would wish to be understood.
- Ten Commandments of Dialogue (Swidler)