Dialogue. Discernment. Democratic Deliberation. Together, these are the concepts that form the foundation of the mission of the Institute on the Common Good. But what exactly do we mean by these words?
At their center, they are the tools we use to help resolve community issues, building trust and strong relationships in order to find innovative solutions to challenges. Used together, they can help us uncover answers that truly lead us to the common good. All reflect the Roman Catholic and Jesuit heritage of Regis University and the Institute.
Depending on the nature of a project, we may use one or all of these tools on any given day. The Institute does not identify a specific set of techniques or steps for its work, but rather attempts to establish a climate within which the dialogue – or conversation, discernment – or seeking God’s will, and deliberation – or intentional consideration, happen. This is called the “space” or “tone” of the group and embodies the underlying thinking and feelings as well as the group’s intentions and perceptions.
Dialogue is at the core of major social change. The Institute was founded on the conviction that key issues can be resolved and societal changes can occur if people speak with one another honestly and respectfully. Called transformational dialogue, for us it comes from roots deep within the philosophy of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, of not just speaking but listening, and together bringing about change. We continue to build on these roots using some of the latest research in the emerging field of dialogue.
The idea of communal discernment, the ability to deliberate and discuss where to go as a community, was a gift from St. Ignatius. This tool used as a way for discerning the will of God for the community has been a mark of Jesuit spirituality over the centuries. This style of discernment has long sought “a unity achieved in an atmosphere of prayerful peace.” Discernment is a tool primarily used with spiritual and faith-based communities who seek to draw on their spiritual commitments to discern the will of the Spirit within the group.
Democratic deliberation is used primarily by civic groups as they seek to interweave the place of the individual and the place of common good in their shared community life. Sometimes these places may seem to be divergent, but through deliberation a balance can usually be found.
Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuit Experience
Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, wrote his Spiritual Exercises to guide the members of the Society of Jesus. This framework allows ICG facilitators and staff to place themselves in a mindset that enables them to see the group and issues before them with greater openness and awareness.
St. Ignatius wrote that the work of the members of the Society should not be for their own benefit, but always be done for the greater good of the community of God and for the greater glory of the Creator. The work was thus other centered and recognized that we are part of something greater then our individual selves. It also realized, however, that each individual is a unique manifestation of the divine and so each person’s approach must be honored by recognizing and understanding that uniqueness.
The hallmarks of this philosophy can be summarized in three key points: finding God in all things; right intentions, or the assumption that each person operates from a place of good purpose; and holy indifference, that we are will to change or be transformed by others.
The Institute also is heavily influenced by following the tradition of Catholic social teaching. Within Catholic Social teaching are four key concepts that mark this particular approach. These provide the core rationale for why we do the work that we do.
Human Dignity: The inherent belief in the dignity of the human person. Each person is recognized as being made in the image of God.
Common Good and Community: The human person is both sacred and social, growing and achieving fulfillment only in community.
Subsidiarity and Participation: Individuals have a right to fully participate in decisions made on issues relevant to them, and giving a voice to the most vulnerable members of society is a key moral duty.
Rights and Responsibilities: Society can only function if the fullest level of human rights are recognized and members recognize their rights and well as their responsibilities to their own welfare and the welfare of others.