Changing our Consciousness: An Organization with a Mission

Waging Dialogue is a project of Changing our Consciousness, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 by Dr. Alice L. Maher, to develop tools for resolving intergroup conflict and to make them available for everyone; to help each of us develop a greater capacity to see the world through eyes other than our own. Changing our Consciousness has built two decades of innovative projects aimed at addressing intergroup conflict through education programs and hosting difficult conversations.

2003 – The Original Waging Dialogue Forums

The Waging Dialogue Forums, our first initiative, were conceived on a hypothesis: that prejudice and aggression are innate to the human condition and can’t be adequately contained until the beliefs and feelings that lie beneath them are given a safe arena for exploration and understanding. We believed that as people became more aware of their conscious and unconscious prejudices and helped others identify those dynamics in themselves, they would develop greater personal insight and empathy toward others, channel aggression constructively, and be able to work together to discover creative solutions to social problems. From 2004 to 2011, we facilitated seven active, moderated, online forums, with over 200 members. Participants from different backgrounds and world views accepted a contract to discuss issues ranging from “Antisemitism and Islamophobia” to “Wealth, Poverty, and the Middle Class.” The radical idea behind Waging Dialogue was that humans should be allowed to be human, and space should be afforded in controlled settings for the human impulse to engage in conflict, even if the boundaries of civility are sometimes tested. Results were mixed. The text-based interaction of these forums diminished communication of complete thoughts. These were the formative years of social media, and few could truly grasp how serious this problem would become for all of society.

2010 – Emotional Imprint

As the original Waging Dialogue listserv forums wound down after years of active dialogue, Dr. Maher analyzed their shortcomings and began to conceptualize the problem as a language yet to be learned, understood, and then taught in an academic curriculum in Emotional Literacy, from elementary through graduate school, using the “thought experiment” model. The model curriculum that we now call Emotional Imprint™ began to take shape through student focus groups, short videos created by filmmaker Max Rosenbaum, and lesson plans designed by special education teacher Victoria Grinman. In 2010, Dr. Maher addressed the Psychohistory Forum. In 2011, Victoria Grinman, Suzanne Amro, an educator in Ethics and Religious Culture, Marshall Alcorn of George Washington University, and Dr. Maher presented EI to the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society.

2012 – Street Squash

In 2012, we were given the opportunity to design, implement, and test Emotional Imprint™ with middle school students at the Harlem-based enrichment program, Street Squash. Our educational consultant Melissa Brand first designed a one-week summer course. It was an overwhelming success, and we were invited back to create a full-year Emotional Imprint course for Street Squash’s eighth-graders. Dr. Brand has run training sessions for the Street Squash teachers and developed industry-standard evaluation materials, to help other educators build upon these pilot programs.

2013 – The Hot Stove Project

Understanding others requires that we understand thought process differences. In 2008, Dr. Lois Oppenheim joined Dr. Maher to co-create a documentary feature film that reframes our understanding of mental illness. Filmmaker Sheryl Franko joined our team, and in 2013 we released our first film “How to Touch a Hot Stove.” Our film interweaves human stories with insight into the state of the field and multiple competing paradigms. Participants include Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks, and actor John Turturro. The Hot Stove Project completed its second film, “Daniel, Debra, Leslie (and You?)” in 2019, and it has been made available to academic institutions and medical schools. Visit the Hot Stove Project website.

2016 – Divides

In 2016, we invited students from Hunter College High School and the Street Squash enrichment program to converse with and study the works of four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Vamik Volkan. The students wrote essays and short stories in response, and these were compiled into the E-Book “Divides”

2018 – Catalysis

In 2018, Dr. Maher published her culminating work, Catalysis: A Recipe to Slow Down or Abort Humankind’s Leap to War, presenting a theoretical model that integrates and reframes models from disparate fields. Dr. Maher presents simple pilot projects and shares concrete suggestions for ways that everyone can begin to implement these ideas in the here and now. The Catalysis Facebook page attracted over 400 subscribers. The Facebook group is dedicated to the discovery of creative solutions to political conflicts by imagining the emotional experience of the Other. Participants in our daily discussion threads share a desire to catalyze social change by working to understand the world views of both political parties, locate short and long-term horizons, support creative leadership, and imagine new solutions to longstanding political conflict.

2020 – The New Waging Dialogue Forums

The coronavirus pandemic quarantine, while it isolated us from one another, paradoxically brought us together through a new medium for communication – the Zoom Webinar – to expand our research and develop our model. Putting strangers together in a virtual room allows them to see one another as human, and gives them space to contextualize their viewpoints. The disadvantage is that the scope of conversations must be limited due to time constraints. By hosting a combination of live conversations and text-based spaces for continued discussion, we hope to create a hybrid model that addresses the limitations of both the live and text-based approaches.

We began in the fall of 2020 with the Dialogue with Dignity conversation series. These proved to be productive but also too limiting in scope and duration. In 2021, we partnered with the Listen First Project to broaden our reach and created a longer form dialogue and meta-dialogue project using a combination of video and text mediums. Other dialogues held during this time included a panel discussion of Todd Drezner’s documentary film, The Campaign of Minor Bo, with current and former candidates for the US Congress who joined us to discuss the experience of running for office in this polarized political climate. We later partnered with Braver Angels to host a meta-dialogue analysis of a Braver Angels parliamentary style debate.

The Waging Dialogue Project is ongoing. We are currently seeking an organizational partner or backer to help us develop dialogues on a larger scale.

You can view all Waging Dialogue videos on our Youtube Channel

2022 – Civics Corps Program

We are partnered with Bay College in Michigan and the Collaborative for Compassionate Civic Engagement to bring Waging Dialogue activities to their extracurricular civic engagement program, known as the Civics Corps.

Read the Observational Report on the United States Civic Wellness Movement by Professor June Klees of Bay College HERE

Civics Corps students participated in an intergenerational dialogue project during the Spring/Winter term of 2023. At the program’s conclusion, they produced a podcast discussion of their experiences with their dialogue partners. The podcast can be viewed HERE

For the Fall 2023 Semester, Civics Corps will be hosting a group dialogue between students and veterans.

In 2011 our umbrella organization Changing Our Consciousness received 501(c)3 status and became a non-profit. If you wish to support our work, please consider making a donation.