About International Dialogue Initiative (IDI)
The IDI is a private, international, multidisciplinary group comprised of psychoanalysts, academics, diplomats, and other professionals who meet on a biannual basis to examine large group differences, and the emotionally charged perception of those differences. IDI’s mission is to understand the contribution of past trauma and current large group identity anxieties to disturbed relationships between communities and nations. The IDI also develops interventions aimed toward facilitating deeper discussion between representatives from various cultures, toward the goal of learning about, and peaceful resolution of, emotionally-charged group differences.
We believe that solutions to entrenched large group conflict come about through sustained personal engagement of the people from those cultures. The IDI’s dialogue efforts therefore include all perspectives in an effort to grasp the psychological, historical and psycho-political dynamics that underlay misperception, overreaction and polarization. A forum for discussion, reflection and insight, the IDI tries to identify “entry points” for intervention toward the goal of taming enemy images, clarifying irrational thinking, initiating empathy between opposing groups, and bridging severe splits.
Founded by Dr. Vamık D. Volkan, currently President Emeritus, the IDI is a small group of experts and scholars from diverse disciplines and countries (including Germany, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Russia, Turkey, the UK and the USA) who have gathered for a series of meetings to discuss topics and examine processes related to international tensions, initially between the Islamic world and the West. The meetings began in Ankara in December 2007 and have taken place yearly or twice yearly since: in Istanbul, Ankara, Belfast, London, Oxford, Jerusalem and Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
The Stockbridge meeting was held at the Austen Riggs Center, whose Erikson Institute was originally the administrative home of the IDI. Erik Erikson, the renowned humanist psychoanalyst, was on the staff of the Center for many years. Dr. Edward Shapiro, former Medical Director and CEO of the Austen Riggs Center, and Dr. M. Gerard Fromm, former Director of the Erikson Institute, joined Senior Erikson Scholar Dr. Vamık Volkan to launch the IDI as a project of the Erikson Institute.
Now an independent organization, with 501(c)(3) charitable status in the United States, IDI meetings have been supported in the past by the Dart Foundation, the Turkish Psychopolitical Association, Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, the Centre for Psychotherapy and the Health Trust in Belfast, the Austen Riggs Center, the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University and private donors. It is critical to our work, however, that the IDI is, and will continue to be, a fully independent interest group with no institutional affiliations or obligations.
Meetings of the IDI last for 2½ days and focus on current issues. Over time, these have included, among other topics: elections in Iran, child development in the Arab world, the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey’s internal dynamics, the Arab Spring, the Gaza War, the United States after 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. The work of the meetings begins with members, or sometimes invited guests, presenting informally but with first-hand information about the two or three central foci of a given meeting. This is followed by a lengthy discussion, which develops understanding of the issues by exploring the key stories surrounding a given incident from a psychodynamic point of view.
By design, we also take note of our own group process. In the course of discussion, participants, sometimes without fully realizing it, become, or are seen as, representatives of their own countries. Each member thus becomes an informal spokesperson for his or her large group, while at the same time maintaining individuality. This process allows group sentiments to be described more authentically. The ensuing dialogue may then provide insights into the emotional relationships between those countries, as they are perceived by the group at this moment in time. This level of understanding – informed by the study of group and organizational dynamics – adds new hypotheses and potential layers of meaning to the conceptual discussion and narrative understandings emerging so far.
IDI meetings have four broad outcomes. First, they develop psychological insights, concepts, narrative understandings and language that are useful in making sense of the emotional dynamics of international relationships and events. Examples of this include the ideas of “chosen trauma,” linking objects, the inability to mourn, large group identity dynamics and the trans-generational transmission of trauma.
Second, the group develops a common language between psychologically trained participants and those who are diplomats, politicians or from other disciplines. This provides a model for transferring psychological insights in understandable ways to those who are actually responsible for diplomatic communications.
Third, the IDI functions as a conceptual sounding board and support group for those members of the group currently engaged in consulting to governments and other societal groups. Examples here include a project involving high-level discussions between Turkish and Kurdish citizens of Turkey, a project training conflict mediators in Israel and a group intervention in Northern Ireland.
Finally, the IDI — via this website — functions as a platform for its members to engage the broader public in dialogue, through dissemination of papers, presentations, meeting summaries and books and through an invitation to connect.