The Waging Dialogue Forums, COC’s first initiative, were conceived on a hypothesis: that prejudice and aggression are innate to the human condition and can't be adequately contained until the beliefs and feelings that lie beneath them are given a safe arena for exploration and understanding. We believed that as people became more aware of their conscious and unconscious prejudices and helped others identify those dynamics in themselves, they would develop greater personal insight and empathy toward others, channel aggression constructively, and be able to work together to discover creative solutions to social problems. From 2004 to 2011, we facilitated seven active, moderated, online forums, with a total membership of 229. Participants from different backgrounds and world views accepted a contract to discuss issues ranging from “Antisemitism and Islamophobia” to “Wealth, Poverty, and the Middle Class.” You can read more about them here.
As the Waging Dialogue forums wound down after years of active dialogue, Dr. Maher analyzed their shortcomings and began to conceptualize the problem as a language yet to be learned and understood, in an academic curriculum in Emotional Literacy, taught from elementary through graduate school, using the “thought experiment” model. The model curriculum that we now call Emotional Imprint™ began to take shape through student focus groups, short videos created by filmmaker Max Rosenbaum, and lesson plans designed by special education teacher Victoria Grinman. In 2010, Dr. Maher addressed the Psychohistory Forum. In 2011, Victoria Grinman, Suzanne Amro, educator in the Ethics and Religious Culture program in Montreal, Marshall Alcorn of George Washington University, and Dr. Maher presented EI to the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society.
In early 2012, Changing Our Consciousness was given the opportunity to design, implement, and test Emotional Imprint™ with middle school students at the Harlem-based enrichment program, Street Squash. Our educational consultant Melissa Brand first designed a one-week summer course. It was an overwhelming success, and we were invited back to create a full-year Emotional Imprint course for Street Squash's eighth graders. Dr Brand has run training sessions for the Street Squash teachers and developed industry-standard evaluation materials, as research is a critical component of these pilot programs.
Understanding others requires that we understand thought process differences. In 2008, Dr. Lois Oppenheim joined Dr. Maher to co-create a documentary feature film that reframes our understanding of mental illness. Filmmaker Sheryl Franko joined our team, and in 2013 we released our film “How to Touch a Hot Stove.” Our film interweaves human stories with insight into the state of the field and multiple competing paradigms. Participants include Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks, and actor John Turturro. The Hot Stove Project has recently completed its second film, “Daniel, Debra, Leslie (and You?),” now available to academic institutions and medical schools. See the Hot Stove Project website for details.
In 2016, Changing Our Consciousness invited students from Hunter College High School and the Street Squash enrichment program to converse with and study the works of four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Vamik Volkan. The students then wrote essays and short stories in response. These were compiled into an E-Book, which can be read here.
In 2018, Dr. Maher published her culminating work, Catalysis: A Recipe to Slow Down or Abort Humankind’s Leap to War, presenting a theoretical model that integrates and reframes models from disparate fields. Dr. Maher presents simple pilot projects and shares concrete suggestions for ways that everyone can begin to implement these ideas in the here and now. The Catalysis Facebook Group has attracted over 400 subscribers. Our page is dedicated to the discovery of creative solutions to political conflicts through the ability to imagine the emotional experience of the other. Participants in our daily discussion threads share a desire to catalyze social change by working to understand the worldviews of both political parties, locate short and long term horizons, support creative leadership, and imagine new solutions to longstanding political conflict.
The coronavirus pandemic quarantine has paradoxically offered us a new medium for communication – the Zoom Webinar – with which to expand our research and develop our model. This summer, we will hold a series of live events called “Dialogue With Dignity.” We hope you will join us for this unique discussion series and continue to follow the pathbreaking endeavors of Changing Our Consciousness.