The Spirit of Dialogue (Paperback)

Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict

By Aaron T. Wolf

Island Press, 9781610916172, 224pp.

Publication Date: September 14, 2017

List Price: 32.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


We tend to approach conflict from the perspective of competing interests. A farmer’s interest lies in preserving water for crops, while an environmentalist’s interest is in using that same water for instream habitats. It’s hard to see how these interests intersect. But what if there was a different way to understand each party’s needs?

Aaron T. Wolf has spent his career mediating such conflicts, both in the U.S. and around the world. He quickly learned that in negotiations, people are not automatons, programed to defend their positions, but are driven by a complicated set of dynamics—from how comfortable (or uncomfortable) the meeting room is to their deepest senses of self. What approach or system of understanding could possibly untangle all these complexities? Wolf’s answer may be surprising to Westerners who are accustomed to separating religion from science, rationality from spirituality.

Wolf draws lessons from a diversity of faith traditions to transform conflict. True listening, as practiced by Buddhist monks, as opposed to the “active listening” advocated by many mediators, can be the key to calming a colleague’s anger. Alignment with an energy beyond oneself, what Christians would call grace, can change self-righteousness into community concern. Shifting the discussion from one about interests to one about common values—both farmers and environmentalists share the value of love of place—can be the starting point for real dialogue.

As a scientist, Wolf engages religion not for the purpose of dogma but for the practical process of transformation. Whether atheist or fundamentalist, Muslim or Jewish, Quaker or Hindu, any reader involved in difficult dialogue will find concrete steps towards a meeting of souls.

About the Author

Aaron T. Wolf is a Professor of Geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. He has acted as a consultant to the World Bank and several international governments and agencies on various aspects of transboundary water resources and dispute resolution. A trained mediator/facilitator, Wolf directs the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation, through which he has offered workshops, facilitations, and mediations in basins throughout the world. 

Praise For The Spirit of Dialogue: Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict

"Wolf is a heavyweight in the conflict resolution world...The Spirit of Dialogueencapsulates his global approach to transforming conflict developed over 25 years of practice…The text is not dense academic prose littered with formal citations; it is a conversation between Wolf and the reader. If one wonders what it is like to take a course, participate in a workshop, or be 'mediated' by Wolf, they will get a good feel for his mindful and practical approaches in this book."

— Mediate

"Wolf explores [problem solving practices of many faiths and cultures] with respect and insight...these techniques and ways of looking at conflict belong in our toolbox."

— Friends Journal

"Aaron Wolf is an inspiring facilitator and mediator who applies the highest levels of emotional intelligence in his work. In The Spirit of Dialogue, he weaves his powerful tales from negotiations with spiritual perspectives on how hearts can connect across divides. A book anyone trying to help groups discover common ground will find of great benefit."

— Daniel Goleman, author, Emotional Intelligence

"Rich with photographs and graphics and an easy, inviting style, The Spirit of Dialogue is a pleasure to read for anyone interested in how we are put together and how we interact. Using compelling examples from Wolf's practice as an international mediator, it brings the reader to the negotiating table to witness breakthroughs that seem inexplicable. But within the frameworks of philosophy, cosmology, and religion, we begin to see inside these mysteries of human behavior and appreciate the power within ourselves and each other to achieve the unlikely."

— Lucy Moore, author, Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator

"In The Spirit of Dialogue, Aaron Wolf provides clear evidence that different faith traditions have much more in common than most people imagine, especially when it comes to explaining how body, heart, mind, and spirit must all be engaged for meaningful dialogue to lead to conflict resolution. Wolf offers a powerful argument for why and how rationality and spirituality must be fused. This is the only way to move from positions to interests to values to harmony."

— Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and MIT Co-founder and Vice-Chair, Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School