Dialogue is an excellent way to collectively anticipate and create future. It enables us to understand the future more broadly and diversely than what we could do alone. Dialogue can create sensitivity to the currents of the present and help us to glimpse some of their future trends. Dialogue can also be consciously used to create anticipations of future that help human communities navigate towards their communally chosen directions.
When times are tough and the future is dark, the powers that shape the future in dialogue have exceptionally big meaning. Dialogue aiming for collective learning keeps us sensitive also to surprising changes and helps us envision new possibilities even in places where the prospects seem hopeless.
Future is always present
Our experiences of the world include many outlooks for the future. The past, present and future continuously intertwine in each moment. We are not often particularly conscious of our future horizon, but that horizon nevertheless constantly shapes our experiences and actions. Our anticipations of the future guide the lives of individuals as well as communities in a crucial way. Often future perspectives touch only the immediately next moments of time, sometimes they extend to situations looming far.
When I wake up in the morning, I start to prepare for the day ahead. I drink coffee so that I will soon be alert and look out the window to know what to wear. When I am walking down the street, I do my best to navigate through the traffic to make it on time to my workplace. I give way to the biker curving in front of me so that they don’t need to make an emergency barking. When a road-side advertisement reminds me of last summer’s holiday trip, I’m already thinking about where to travel next summer. At the same time, I hope that sometime in the future it would be possible to travel to my favorite destinations by train instead of flying.
These and plenty of other future glimpses can be heard when people are engaged in a dialogue. Even if people spoke about past events or their current experiences, they always put their speech into a perspective – consciously or unconsciously – that also involves the future. It is important for the facilitator of the dialogue to listen carefully in which ways the speakers refer to the future.
The future is present in various ways. Most commonly the future appears as hopes, worries, assumptions, and guesses. Hopes and worries are not always explicitly expressed, but they can be heard from the tones, emphases, and breaks, or seen from facial expressions and body gestures. Anxiety makes eyebrows furrow; hope lets the eyes shine.
In a dialogue, people also often make rather strong assumptions about the causes and effects related to the topic in question. These almost always include anticipations of the future. ”If we do not renovate the condominium’s plumbing soon, even more apartments are going to have water damage.” Or, ”Many of our employees are content with the current wages. This can surely be seen because not that many people are any longer leaving our company for other jobs.”
Sometimes dialogue brings out presumptions about the way things are evolving and what is going to happen next. ”Students are more tired this fall. I am scared that we are going to have a record amount of absences in December.” Or, ”Even though things seem quite dark now, for some reason I believe, that we have gotten past the worst phase.”
Future can be seen with imagination
Because future things have not yet happened, our only way to deal with them is to use our imagination. Imagination can be actively utilized in dialogue to perceive future more clearly and diversely.
The dialogue facilitator can explicate the worries, hopes, assumptions, and guesses they hear. They can ask the participants to tell, specify, expand, and modify their mental images of the future. In practice this means that one stops to examine what goes on in their head related to the future. Imagining the future always – one way or the other – leans on observations of the present and memories of past events. ”Yes, I believe things will get better. Now when I stop to think about it, I notice it stemming from the fact that we have yet again laughed during our coffee break. If this kind of joy gets transmitted to work as well, I believe that we will also get better results.”
Often a more careful imagining of our own future perspectives and anticipations reveals many matters that have remained hidden. Sometimes we might be surprised that we have made very far reaching conclusions about the future based on very flimsy assumptions. However, sometimes a somewhat fumbling inkling can turn out to be a justifiable anticipation of the future trends. Working on visions of the future in dialogue is an excellent way to test the accuracy of the assumptions.
Diverse experiences enrich future perspectives
Dialogue offers a significant asset by enabling us to enrich our future perspective with the experiences of others. When I hear other participants talk about how they see the future, I receive many building blocks to my own future anticipations.
What often happens in dialogue is that listening to another participant makes me question my own worries and hopes. Hearing other participants’ confidence on the future might relieve my own worries. Or, on the contrary, the dialogue might help me notice that I have been too about the threats looming in the future.
In the same way, listening to other participants can lead me to make new assumptions about the causations of things. ”I had never thought about the consequences of our decisions to the pensioners living in this condominium”. Or, ”Listening to you I realize that I had never even thought that coffee breaks have such a big significance in our work community.”
Future should be played with
Especially when the future prospects are immersed in uncertainty and unclarity, dialogue can help to examine different possibilities. In this case people’s exceptional skill of empathizing together in imaginary situations, as well as the ability to play, should be taken seriously. The playing that occurs in dialogue can be fairly serious. It is crucial that people, by continuing to develop each other’s ideas, dare to imagine together some communally chosen perspectives of the future.
In its simplicity this means that a specific assumption about the future is chosen as the topic of a deeper conversation and examined together. ”Let us assume that we decide to take a big loan for renovating the condominium’s yards more cozy. How would life be here?” Or, ”Our worst fear for the company’s economic situation comes true. How would we act?”
When we set out to examine the future with the means of playing, the facilitator should keep especially two things in mind. On the one hand, it is important that every participant of the dialogue can participate in the development of the imaginary future in their own ways and that everyone’s proposals are equally valuable. ”How do you see this situation? To which direction would you continue from what others have brought up?” On the other hand, it is important to protect the coherence of the future perspective that is being communally built. ” It seems to me that your proposal comes from a different place than this current one. Is it okay that we examine it separately if necessarily and still stay on the current starting point for a moment?”
An excellent dialogical method for playfully examining the future is the ”recalling the future”, developed by Tom Arnkil’s workgroup. In this method, a group participating in dialogue places itself in a future moment (like a year from now) and ”recalls” together how they have ended up in that situation. Which things allowed a good development and who did what? Recalling the future -method was originally created for families in difficult life situations but it can be creatively applied to many different communities and situations. Reminiscence of the future can be used in, for example, developing a work community, organization’s strategy work, or coaching a sports team, as well as searching for solutions to worldwide problems.
Communally created vision changes the world
With the power of imagination and play, we can also create future visions that guide the activities of the community in question. Dialogue helps to make the visions vivid; ambitious enough but at the same time realistic and genuinely shared. Exhilarating visions live in people’s mental images in various ways. Alongside concrete plans, a lively vision can also include powerful images, moods that evoke emotions, and intellectually bright ideas.
Dialogical conversation also helps to make the vision ambitious enough in a way that it still remains realistic enough. When creating the vision, dialogue’s participants can think remarkably carefully in which ways (and with which kinds of causations) the desired future could be accomplished in reality. However, the journey to the future does not always require a detailed map. The most important thing is that the vision of the future excites and helps individuals to steer their own powers to a shared goal.
Dialogue can also help to create a future vision that is built in a genuinely communal way. When people feel that they have participated in the shaping of the community’s future vision, they are usually also more committed to taking it forward. Not everyone has to see the vision exactly in same way. It is enough that everyone understands how precisely they can take the vision forward in everyday activities. Then even small acts help to advance the common good, and the individual can feel like being a part of a community where precisely their unique contribution has an irreplaceable meaning. Visions of the future, that deeply move individuals, can change the world – actually they are the only powers in our use to create the future we want.
- Listen to the participant’s expressions of future visions: worries, hopes, assumptions, and guesses.
- Pay attention to how the participants express their relationship with the future in their physical postures, gestures, facial expressions, and tones. Ask for the meaning of these expressions if necessary. ”I notice that you are quite irritated with thing X. What kind of worries about the future do you relate to it?”
- Articulate the hopes, worries, assumptions, and guesses emerging in the conversation. ”Many of you have brought up that changes in thing X would not bring wanted results. Then what will follow as a result of this change in your opinion?”
- Actively encourage imagining the future. ”You are very excited about X. Tell more about how you see things developing in the future.”
- Help participants to specify and refine their visions of the future with the help of the experiences brought up by others. ”After listening to each other, have your perceptions of the future somehow changed: become more precise, more diverse, or even entirely different?”
- Choose some possible vision of the future and develop it with the help of a playful conversation. ”Let us stop at thing X for a moment. Let us imagine together that it will come true. What do you think would follow from it for yourselves, other people, and more broadly to our world?