Creating space for transformative conversations

Dialogue Spotlight: Daniel Savas

July 18, 2018

DIALOGUE SPOTLIGHT is an ongoing interview series featuring SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue staff, fellows and associates.

Daniel Savas is the Democracy Project Lead and Dialogue Associate at SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, as well as a Visiting Professor at SFU's School of Public Policy.

How did you first hear about the Centre for Dialogue?

I first learned about the Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue many years ago during an initiative I attended about Canadians' relations with Aboriginal Peoples.

Why does dialogue and engagement matter? Where is it needed?

I love languages; they're the entry point into cultures and, by extension, into the way people think. They're also puzzles to "solve" that help us gain an appreciation for how people from different countries, cultures and perspectives interact and engage with each other, either directly through talking or indirectly through signals they transmit. Dialogue is about recognizing the power of language, of having conversations and about solving the puzzle of languages with the goal of understanding meanings in the words and the emotions people share. These dialogues can be meaningful and deep, or they can be frivolous and fun. But, they all have significance because they help generate understanding, often across seemingly insurmountable barriers. With this understanding, particularly when addressing important issues, the hope is to arrive at an outcome where everyone emerges satisfied that they've been listened too.

More than ever, dialogue is need in our public spaces, in government, in our politics. I feel the tone of public discourse has deteriorated to a point where it risks causing social unrest and threatening the very fabric of democratic societies. We don't seem to be able to speak to each other anymore without angry, stake-in-the-ground, finger pointing and shouting. The underlying violence implied in this type of approach really damages the extent to which issues of importance can be resolved amicably and peacefully. No one wins when civil dialogue is the exception rather than the rule.

What is your favourite aspect about doing work directly in or related to dialogue and engagement?

Meeting the people who participate, and hearing their views. After more than 28 years working in the public opinion research field, I have been and continue to be amazed at how wonderfully bright and insightful people are in expressing their views when they're asked, and how uniquely positioned they are to speak from true experience and passion.  The "public" is a lot smarter and in tune with things than they are often given credit for. We forget this at our peril.

How do you think dialogue and engagement can change the post-secondary experience? (Whether for students, staff, faculty, or all)

The more opportunities students have to participate in dialogue, the greater appreciation they will have for how it works to build consensus and how effective a tool it is to address and share views on important issues.

What is one simple way dialogue can be implemented in the local community?

Invite community members to dialogue sessions on issues that affect them directly.

If you weren't doing your current work, what would you be doing? 

Two possibilities.  First, I would be taking serious golf lessons to try to earn a spot on the PGA Seniors Tour or at least to give me a chance to beat my friends at a game or two. Second, writing a book...probably non-fiction.