Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.

International Dialogue Initiative (IDI)
February 8, 2011
In the 21st Century, understanding the other presents itself as perhaps the major difficulty in the field of international relations.
Misunderstanding, polarizing language and reflexive antagonisms contribute to conflict between communities and nations.
Although real differences exist between these large groups, psychologically informed dialogue opens the possibility for understanding
and overcoming potential distortions and stereotyped reactions, and for finding peaceful solutions to relationship problems.
The International Dialogue Initiative examines large group differences, and the emotionally charged perception of those differences, in an attempt to understand the effect of past trauma on present concerns and the contribution of large group identity anxieties to divisiveness and conflict. The Initiative is aimed at facilitating a process of deepening discussion between representatives from various cultures for the purpose of learning together about these differences in perspective.
We believe that any proposed global solutions that bypass the careful and detailed engagement of people from different cultures in such a learning effort will be ultimately unworkable. Our process will include all perspectives in an effort to grasp the psychological dynamics that underlay misperception and overreaction. The International Dialogue Initiative will form a unique forum for discussion, reflection and insight. We will try to find “entry points” for future actions that may tame enemy images, remove irrational thinking, initiate empathy between opposing groups, and begin to erase severe splits.
Under the coordination of Prof. Dr. Vamık D. Volkan, Lord John Alderdice and Dr. Robi Friedman, a small group of experts and scholars from diverse disciplines and countries (Austria, Egypt, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Russia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the USA) have gathered for a series of meetings to discuss topics and examine processes related to international tensions, especially between the Islamic world and the West.  The meetings began in Ankara in December 2007 and have taken place twice yearly since: in Istanbul twice, Belfast, Ankara again and, most recently, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  During the Belfast meeting, Lord Alderdice led the group through the issues, challenges and turning points in the Northern Ireland peace process, with which he was closely involved and which serves as a source of both learning and inspiration for the IDI. 
The Stockbridge meeting was held at the Austen Riggs Center, whose Erikson Institute is the administrative home of the IDI.  Erik Erikson, the renowned humanist psychoanalyst, was on the staff of the Center for many years, and his point of view, articulated in writings such as Childhood and Society and Identity, Youth and Crisis, also inspires the kind of in-depth, real world, psychosocial project the IDI represents.  Drs. Edward Shapiro, Medical Director/CEO of Austen Riggs, and Gerard Fromm, Erikson Institute Director, represent the Center on the IDI, along with Senior Erikson Scholar, Dr. Vamık D. Volkan.
IDI meetings have been supported in the past by the Dart Foundation, the Turkish Psychopolitical Association, Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, the Centre for Psychotherapy and the Health Trust in Belfast, the Austen Riggs Center and private donors.  However, it is critical to our work that the IDI is, and will continue to be, a fully independent interest group with no institutional affiliations or obligations.
Meetings of the IDI last for 2 ½ days and focus on current issues.  The following is a partial list of topics discussed so far:
- Governance structures in Iran
- The United States after 9/11
- Women and child development in the Arab world
- Israeli and Turkish leadership at Davos
- The Gaza war
- The Northern Ireland peace process
- Iranian leadership and its relationship to religion
- The Mavi Marmara flotilla incident
- Anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States
The work of the meetings begins with members presenting informally but with first-hand information about the two or three central foci of a given meeting.  This is followed by a lengthy discussion, which deepens the understanding of the issues, explores the key stories surrounding a given incident from a psychodynamic point of view and takes note of our own group process.  By the latter, we mean that participants in the discussions sometimes become, or are seen as - often unwittingly - representatives of their own countries.  This is by design; we want each member to be a spokesperson for his or her large group, but at the same time to maintain individuality, thus allowing for group sentiments to be described more authentically. The ensuing dialogue may then provide insights into the imagined, emotionally textured relationships between those countries at this moment in time.  This level of understanding – informed by the study of group and organizational dynamics – adds potential layers of meaning to the conceptual discussion and narrative understandings emerging so far.
IDI meetings have three broad outcomes.  First, they develop psychological insights, concepts, narrative understandings and language that are useful in making sense of the emotional dynamics of international relationships and events.  Examples of this come most importantly from Dr. Vamık D. Volkan’s previous work and include the idea of chosen trauma, linking objects, the inability to mourn, large group identity dynamics and the transgenerational transmission of trauma.
Second, the group develops a common language between psychologically trained participants and those who are diplomats, politicians or from other disciplines. This provides a model for transferring psychological insights in understandable ways to those who are actually responsible for diplomatic communications.
Finally, the IDI functions as a conceptual sounding board and support group for those members of the group currently engaged in consulting to governments and other societal groups.  Examples here include a current project involving high-level discussions between Turkish and Kurdish citizens of Turkey, a project training conflict mediators in Israel and an IDI member’s participation on the Israeli Commission investigating the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident.
Upcoming Meeting:
The next meeting of the IDI will take place again in the Middle East.  We will discuss, among other issues, the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya and authoritarianism and democracy in that part of the world, and dynamic issues related to Arab identity.


Copyright © Vamık D. Volkan and Özler Aykan 2007.
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Last modified on: Apr 20, 2016