I recently facilitated a dialogue between Q fever patients and goat keepers. It was a rewarding and also an extremely emotional session.
The lives of many Q fever patients had been devastated because they had the misfortune of contracting a serious illness while walking or cycling past a goat farm. But the lives of the goat keepers had also taken a dramatic turn. Though they had taken all the measures required by government agencies, their goats had fallen ill, and had infected innocent passers-by. In many cases the farmers had been required to destroy half their goats.
In spite of the charged atmosphere and the strong emotions on both sides, a splendid discussion developed.
During the preparation, and following a series of interviews with both sides, I selected two cases in which either a patient or a farmer had found him- or herself placed in a difficult situation. The patient was, with difficulty, able to work only two or three hours a day. When he prepared to go home at the end of his few hours at work, his colleagues sneered at him, remarking with some sarcasm at the fact that he could go home to sit in the garden while they had to continue working. The goat keeper had recently organised a third meeting with worried neighbours in her own living room. During that meeting the mayor and a representative of health services had confirmed that the farmer had done everything by the book. Nevertheless, as the meeting broke up, a visitor bitterly accused the farmer of gross negligence.
In the course of the dialogue I invited the parties to put themselves in the other’s position. What would they feel, think and do in such a circumstance? This resulted in an extremely moving discussion which was experienced by all as very healing. ‘Healing’ because of the new awareness of, and acknowledgement of the other ‘side’. There was a sense of being heard and understood, and a ‘connection’ was established between all the individuals, from both sides. ‘Healing’ also because the dialogue permitted all those present to connect quietly, and at the same time intensely, with their own feelings.
Listening carefully, empathizing with the ‘other side’ and sharing deeply felt feelings resulted in ‘connections’ where these had previously been impossible.