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"The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization." 
– Sigmund Freud

Who We Are

Be true to yourself while preserving your relationships with people who may think, feel, believe and communicate differently.

This is the goal of participants in these forums, which is designed to serve as a testing ground for the proposition that psychoanalytic principles can be applied to examining and eventually changing the root causes of prejudice and social conflict. Participants exhibit, work to understand and change prejudices and preconceptions that are inherent in group communication but are often ignored, suppressed, or acted out with physical violence in societies.

Why do groups regress to hatred and violence so quickly, and how might aggression be mobilized and transformed into creative renewal? While much has been written about the problem from multiple perspectives (group dynamics, organizational dynamics, socio-political theory, culture, art, literature, philosophy, et al), the analytic model suggests that intellectual understanding is only minimally effective in catalyzing internal change and conflict resolution. Despite the best efforts of many, history repeats itself. Blaming individuals, groups, or a collective force of evil is a common response, but it’s of little use unless accompanied by awareness of the extent to which the dynamics that lead to war lie within ourselves.

The psychoanalytic model operates on the belief that one can understand one’s inner world and become free to change destructive patterns only if one is provided a safe arena in which to give voice to disturbing thoughts, feelings, fantasies and memories in the context of an ongoing relationship with an analyst. In the treatment setting, dynamic constellations emerge slowly and tolerably, until the analysand gains insight into their origin and meaning. Eventually, energy that was trapped in paralyzing conflicts, symptoms and personality traits is mobilized more effectively.

Powerful distortions and aggression emerge with disturbing regularity in cyberspace, an arena that bears some similarity to the world stage, where people can’t witness the full humanity of the other and have only fragments of data on which to form judgments. This project creates arenas in which the forces of prejudice and aggression can emerge in relative safety, with the goal of being understood and resolved. This is not designed as a therapeutic endeavor and none of us is patient or therapist in this realm. Rather, participants put themselves forward as exemplars of the psychological dynamics that inevitably emerge as people with different beliefs and identities attempt to communicate with one another and move forward as a society.

The forces of war lie within all of us. Acceptance of responsibility leads to empowerment to effect change.

This project was originally conceived by Alice Lombardo Maher, M.D., a classically trained psychoanalyst who graduated in 1989 from The NYU Psychoanalytic Institute at New York University Medical Center. Early in her career she saw the field’s potential for developing a paradigm for social change, and she has been developing a model to study the dynamics of human conflict through the creation of web based in vitro societies.

In September 2004, with the support of the International Association for Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Dr. Maher began her first research project. She brought together approximately 100 people – analysts, mental health professionals and lay people - on a listserv to discuss issues related to psychoanalysis and society. Her hypothesis was that the opportunity to communicate via email would provide an arena for the expression of thoughts and feelings that would likely be denied or suppressed in face-to-face interactions. The process that emerged was fascinating and highly disturbing, and seemed to model social forces. She described the first year of the project in the paper entitled “Is ‘War’ Essential for Peace? A Methodology for the Psychoanalysis of Conflict and Prejudice,” which she presented at the Conference on Prejudice and Conflict in Salt Lake City in November 2005. The paper is published in The International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, and is reprinted here.

Since its inception in 2005, Waging Dialogue has grown to a total of seven forums. Participants have been encouraged to create and facilitate new forums and compare dynamic processes. Later, exciting directions for research will become available by way of the opportunity to study original data preserved in the forum archives.

Dr. Maher believes that an in depth study of the forces that shape human nature must eventually be integrated into our educational curriculum, from kindergarten through PhD programs. Once our children learn more about how human beings think, feel, behave and communicate, they will be able to recognize and demand leaders who demonstrate that understanding. These forums provide a methodology for exploring that terrain.

Learn more about Dr. Alice Maher's work at ChangingOur Consciousness.org>>