The issue of the messenger and the message

It is always hard to listen to something that is not what we want to hear, be it the truth, a lie, a semi-lie, a semi-truth, etc. We crunch, smile, argue, turn the back to the speaker, argue, argue again, bring examples, cite stories (necessary condition of the citation is its pertinence to the category of “universal truth”, the determination of that category being: truth what is concordant of what you believe it is to be), get out of the room, the place, the country, the universe, but what is said remains with us and changes us.

Within the framework of the “Imagine Dialogue” project with fellows from Armenia, I went to hear the “other’s” story and share mine. “Imagine Dialogue” has constantly been dubbed by my friends who have participated in this project, as something very unusual, a different experience, a mind-blasting journey. Well, intrinsically sceptic and having heard almost the same wording for all kinds of workshops and trainings, I went to this “dialogue” without high expectations but with a certain diligence.

The messenger and the message

We sat in front of each other, we meaning Armenians and Azerbaijanis, foes on TV, international relations, politics, in the past and in the present, but not where we were seated – in a remote hotel in one of the resort towns of Georgia. They started first, as their story was about us, and our story according to them started a long ago, when we developed the “sea to sea” concept. Obviously, my Azerbaijani fellows had very “modest” understanding of what is the real “sea to sea” concept in Armenian history (it included wider territories than the original homeland of the Armenian kingdoms: from the Black Sea to the Caspian). Further, we approached the stories that were closer to us: the conflict, the “Khojali massacre”, the occupation. All their stories, with certain wordings (methodologically they were afterwards named as “triggers”), came as hurtful as possible. I was hardly able to restrain myself, but there was one basic formula offered by the trainers – “understanding is not agreeing” – that helped me. I kept repeating this mantra to myself, in order to be able to continue the listening and most importantly understanding, and it kind of worked out.

When I told them my stories, I could observe and surely deduce that they have identical feelings, that they want to jump into what I wanted to air and say, hey, this is complete nonsense, but obviously they followed the above-mentioned formula. It was completely strange for me how we could afterwards be able to talk about such hurtful topics with less and less strain, but two important things helped us. First, the message may be the same as we hear from TV or read on the internet, and most of the time it is, but the messengers are different unlike the politicians, diplomats and others. Second, the same message gradually in time is not as hurtful as it appears initially.

The messengers in case of our dialogue project were our friends, people with whom we slept under same roof, ate the same food (same as food as well :)) played the “color games” competing with each other with additional identities, walking, dancing, and learning each other’s languages. The messages were understood because friends understand each other; not necessarily agreeing but understanding is a must for friends, thus for us as well.

Attaining immunity, thus future

HIV – the human immunodeficiency virus is explained as “much more dangerous than other viruses like colds and flu, because it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)”; this explanation is meant for kids, thus it is probably the most precise.

Like the HIV, the nationalistic rhetoric is also spreading in certain ways, inherently (from parents to children), by blood (by injection of state media) or by intercourse (brain-intercourse is done by almost any state). Many of us got affected by this virus, and will gradually get to the (AIDS) stage (so far incurable) if we do not fortify our immunity. Talking to the other side is not necessarily effecting on the virus per se, but is ameliorating our immunity to resist such a virus.

If to assume to have never heard these stories from Azerbaijani friends, I would probably have lengthy arguments as a minimum with a person who would say exactly the same things. But now after having experienced the “Dialogue” my immunity has increased, I am able now to understand. By undergoing a “certain treatment”, I learnt to listen what is not very pleasant for me to hear. The weakness of the one-story is gradually giving away to a multi-faceted story which is able to resist better to propaganda.

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