Look for the long form interview I did with Pádraig Ó Tuama in the latest edition of the Australian magazine, Dumbo Feather. The theme is courage and he talks about hosting dialogue in rooms where people are bitterly divided. His insights are highly relevant in this moment with a federal election result for which nobody was prepared, including the winners. The threat hovers in Australia – division between city and country, left and right, and despair over climate change. We need more than ever the capacity for dialogue in difference. There is such wisdom and experience in Pádraig’s work at  Corrymeela where difficult conversations are held. Pádraig was the director of Corrymeela for the last five years. There is a lot of gold in the interview, here is just one piece of it…

PADRAIG : Probably people know the room is going to be discussing something of division. Presumably people have a predictable set of outcomes in their mind. “I bet you this group or this person will say the following thing.” And they might even have their responses primed and prepared for the thing that they’re predicting. I’m always interested in how we find the courage in the room for something unexpected and surprising to be said; where people might go: “I don’t know what I think of that, because I haven’t thought of that before.”And that’s more difficult than shouting pre-prepared insults at each other.

JULIE Yes, and you mentioned, when you’re sitting with groups of deeply divided people, the importance of coming from a deep sense of self. I’ve wondered whether your early experiences as a gay man in the unsafe territory of ultra-conservative Christian church groups developed these capacities in you for courageous conversations . I think of the times you’ve spoken of when those groups subjected you to exorcisms. Twenty people yelling at the supposed devil in you. Then the attempts to drag you through the deconstruction of your identity with conversion therapy. Twice. I’m amazed at how you can still speak of the people who did that to you with insight and even humour. Do you feel that having survived this harrowing time is part of your capacity to be grounded in who you are and to speak from a very deep truth?
PADRAIG : Well I certainly look to those experiences. The years and years of silence, of being gay and knowing I had no one to talk to; and then in a very awkward way it being forced out of me and then going through therapy and exorcisms, so-called therapy I should say…
 I suppose I look at all of those as a profound schooling in fear. My guess is that a very significant percentage of the population have a schooling in fear. So there are people who’ve said, “Oh I haven’t suffered that much in my life,” some of that is due to luxury and privilege. Some of that is due to disposition and circumstance. But I’ve met a lot of people who have had a profound schooling in fear — and that teaches you an enormous amount. The thing about it  that even though a huge amount of people have had such a schooling, it always feels isolating. Ha! Fear always makes you feel alone. My experience with fear was certainly isolating. Many of the people I’ve met who’ve had a profound experience of fear felt the same.

Pádraig O Tuama with Julie Perrin DUMBO FEATHER ISSUE 59

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