Back to Forum

Political Power, Intolerance and Lack of Dialogue

Alexandre A. Martins

Dialogue is not an easy task. Although dialogue seems to be an existential necessity of human beings, engaging in a true dialogue requires an honest effort from one interlocutor to interact with another in an inter-relationship among subjectivities. This requires openness to listen to the other without prejudgments and with a disposition to learn. Paulo Freire says: “Dialogue is an encounter among women and men who name the world… It is an act of creation” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 89). In a dialogue, people are active agents who, mediated by their context and perspectives, create and recreate their world. So it is a collective action of creativity and growth. An authentic dialogue, in which one does not attempt to dominate the other, is an “act of liberation” for both interlocutors who address the world “which is to be transformed and humanized.”

Dialogue as an act of liberation must begin with the presupposition that all people, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and their age, have something to offer and a potential to engage in a creative dialogue to build the world. This is not easy and it is particularly complicated at the present time, which is marked by a paradoxical dilemma. On the one hand, the globalized and technological world has facilitated communication and interactions among cultures and peoples. In addition, global migration, regardless of the reason, has made local societies more and more pluralistic and diverse. In other words, migration creates societies where different peoples share the same space. Diversity and global communication should be seen as an opportunity to increase dialogue in order to foster creativity and human growth. On the other hand, the globalized world and its pluralistic societies have seen a significant growth of intolerance nourished by a lack of dialogue as an act of liberation and creation of the world. This paradoxical dilemma is clearly visible when one looks at the political debate in many countries, especially those that have been the target of most refugees, namely European Union countries and the USA. But this intolerance and lack of dialogue are visible in many other political contexts, such as the current political crisis in Brazil, which will be the focus from now on.

Brazil is experiencing a huge political and economic crisis that has affected the lives of all Brazilians. At the basis of this crisis is the revelation that the political system has been built on a systematic corruption involving all political parties, apparently since the creation of the Brazilian Republic in 1889. (The most sarcastic ones say that corruption in Brazil began with the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers and their manipulation of the indigenous people to easily take over their lands.) This entire systematic corruption has been revealed now. This has polarized the country and created an atmosphere of rivalry, misunderstanding, intolerance, and a fight for political power. This atmosphere has affected almost all Brazilians who have expressed their anger on social media and street protests. Anger and protests against corruption are not a bad thing. Many see this moment as an opportunity for the country to rebuild its political system free from this systematic corruption. But these manifestations of revolt and a desire for change have also acquired an ugly form of intolerance, racism, classicism, and violence nourished by a polarized political fight for power, apparently with political leaders having no interest in the well-being of the Brazilian people. In this context, dialogue as an act of liberation and creation was the first thing to be cut from the scene. Nobody listens to the other. Conversation becomes yelling and lands on deaf ears. And “dialogue” is only possible if “you agree with me.” Instead of being an act of liberation towards a collective recreation of the Brazilian society (necessary more now than ever), “dialogue” has been used as an attempt to dominate the other, that is, no dialogue at all.

It is hard to see, in the short term, how to leave this situation of intolerance with which the world, particularly, in Brazil, has been confronted. But hope cannot be lost and, for those who still believe that dialogue as an act of liberation and creation of the world is possible, here is a reflection from which to begin a conversation of mutual learning and recreation of the world. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire says: “Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love of the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself” (89). In his book Education for Critical Consciousness, he adds: “Born of a critical matrix, dialogue creates a critical attitude. It is nourished by love, humility, hope, faith, and trust. When the two ‘poles’ of the dialogue are thus linked by love, hope, and mutual trust, they can join in a critical search for something. Only dialogue truly communicates” (40).

Mutual trust is far from those who are on different sides of the political fight in Brazil or elsewhere. Consequently, there is no true communication. However, this barrier begins to fall when someone from one side opens him/herself to love the other from the opposite side. Just as Freire says, without a profound love for people there is no dialogue. This requires a huge movement of humility, hope, faith, and trust as virtues that foster an authentic, tolerant, and critical dialogue. As a Catholic, perhaps Freire wrote this inspired in Jesus who stated: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13: 34), and encouraged his disciples to love their enemies and pray for them (Mt 5: 43). The Christian tradition also offers light to illuminate experiences of establishing a liberating and creative dialogue. And the Catholic Church can play a significant role in this mission, especially in Brazil.

Vatican II was built on a spirit of dialogue. This was essential for its fruits to flow to the Church and the world. One of most important impulses for this spirit of dialogue was, first, the courage and humility of Pope John XXIII who engaged the entire Church in a dialogue to rethink herself and her mission in the world. Then, the brightness of Pope Paul VI provided form to this dialogue with the Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam where he presented dialogue as the method of the Christian apostolate rooted in four characteristics: clarity, meekness, confidence, and prudence (nos. 81-82). Dialogue has also been a key element of Pope Francis’ pontificate. He usually begins his texts and documents affirming he is offering a reflection to “enter into dialogue with all people” (Laudato Sí, no. 3). In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Guadium, Francis argues that social dialogue is important to construct peace (nos. 238-258).  He says: “Evangelization also involves the path of dialogue. For the Church today, three areas of dialogue stand out where she needs to be present in order to promote full human development and to pursue the common good: dialogue with states, dialogue with society – including dialogue with cultures and the sciences – and dialogue with other believers who are not part of the Catholic Church” (no. 238). And in his Encyclical Laudato Sí, Francis stresses: “Today in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life” (no. 189).

Although dialogue is not an easy task in itself, and a politically polarized society with a tendency to intolerance makes this task even more complicated, without a liberating and creative dialogue able to embody people’s participation for a mutual learning is not possible to re-create the world and re-build the political system to pursue the common good. Love is the principle and the foundation to foster and sustain the encounter among women and men to engage in acts of liberation and creation of the world. Love sustains the existence and the mission of the Church. Love is the Holy Spirit who maintains the ongoing presence of Jesus in the Church and her mission to continue his ministry in history. Love shows that the Church’s mission is dialogue to promote an encounter among people in which they exercise tolerance, listen to one another, and establish a critical process of liberation and re-creation of the world.