Two Decades of Innovative Projects
“Begin now. Invite friends, “frenemies” and colleagues from different ideological centers to talk to—rather than at, about or against—one another. When impasses arise, look to language to build bridges. Ask new questions. Share what works and what doesn’t. Make it interesting and fun. Be on the frontlines of an exciting new movement. Pass it on.” — Dr Alice L. Maher, founder and Executive Director
2003 – Waging Dialogue
The Waging Dialogue Forums, COC’s 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.”
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,” designed by COC’s Matt Bogaty.
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 Group 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 – Dialogue with Dignity
The coronavirus pandemic quarantine, despite its limitations, paradoxically offered us a new medium for communication – the Zoom Webinar – to expand our research and develop our model. Since the summer of 2020, we have held a series of livestreamed panel discussions called “Dialogue With Dignity.” We hope you will join us for this unique discussion series and continue to follow our pathbreaking endeavors.