Staying Apart Even Until Death? – An Experimental Dialogue between Police and Students
The relationship between police officers and students has been fraught with tension, as they apparently stand out as the most confrontational pair in recent years. Faced with a deeply divided society, parties of all sides are increasingly following the “Great Reconciliation” slogan. This topic has been brought up frequently within the faith community, but has remained much “cry and little wool”. Therefore, as co-workers serving college students, we were greatly and pleasantly surprised to hear that the Mission Citizens Campaign created a dialogue in 2016 between the Police Enoch Fellowship and members of Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) who had participated in social movements. On one hand, we marveled at the courage of those who were bold enough to initiate what could be a highly controversial and risky conversation. On the other hand, we were overjoyed by their attempt to break through the deadlock situation. Who would have thought the police and the students could be sitting down at the same table in this day and age?
Onto An Unavoidable Path
Indeed, this was an experiment of uncertainty for the three parties involved. No one can guarantee how the meeting would proceed and the result. Nevertheless, we have an irrefutable mission of reconciliation that drives us to take these chances. If even the faith community lacks the courage to seek reconciliation, our proclamations of faith and testimony to the world would be completely in vain. It has been two years since we started this experimental journey. In the beginning, we were all being cautious and tried to keep a safe distance. Slowly and gradually, we started to build trust and a sense of security. As we began to listen and share in good faith, we recognized everyone’s identity, differences of values and even their thoughts and feelings at each moment in time. This subversive experiment star ted with a small group of people, slowly adding more members to join us over time. In the end, public forums were held successfully on the two very different platforms of the College Fellowship and the Police Enoch Fellowship, sharing down-to-earth experiences and further expanding our conversations.1
So in hindsight, what enlightenment can we bring to our torn society with this experimental dialogue?
Achieving the Spirituality of a Real Conversation with Dialogue
First of all, the common identity of Christians may make it easier for them to start a conversation. However, without the spiritual character that enables them to address discrepancies, their conversations are doomed to an abrupt end with no future. In the first few meetings, everyone was making their own statements on a superficial level. The students were trying to make heads or tails of various controversial incidents, rushing to get their desired answers from the police brothers, or wanting them to admit to the injustice of the police. Meanwhile, the police brothers would only offer “official” responses, not easily giving away their true feelings or thoughts. By beating around the bush, they never really touched on the source of their conflicts. Each person entered the dialogue with their own agenda. The dialogue only served as a tool to satisfy their presumptions, rather than a channel of open communications. Eventually, they started to develop a certain amount of trust and learned to adjust their expectations for each other, without seeing their dialogue as a means of problem solving. As Parker Palmer has pointed out, it is only when we replace “instrumental” language Sharing with “expressive” language, 2 learn to listen first, use our heart to understand the words of others and sincerely express our responses or doubts that a genuine dialogue can ultimately be achieved.
The police brothers began to understand the mentality of the students who participated in the Occupy Campaign and where they were coming from. They heard their voice of despair in the society and their increasing anxiety. In turn, students also became aware of the police’s restrictions in various positions, and how the officers were stuck in a no-win situation.
The dialogue allows us to embrace our gap with patience and acceptance, rather than demonizing our differences. It enables us to understand the feelings and sinful nature behind each human being, and that we all need to be redeemed and transformed by the Gospel. Undoubtedly, this experience tells us that any dialogue needs to go through the course of time, so we can restore our discipline of listening and speaking while resuming communications in this fallen world.
Deconstruction of Self in Dialogue and Reconstruction of Others
Using the same label to exercise control over a body of diverse individuals, dissension only provokes the emotions of each side and turns them into opposing aliens. A dialogue serves to remove these labels. As the Jewish scholar Emmanuel Levinas describes, it deconstructs the fragmentary symbols that are imposed on others and restores their abstract images to real humans with flesh and blood.3 As part of the disciplined services, the police must follow instructions from their supervisors. However, when they are not bound by their uniforms, they are far from being lifeless robots. When discussing issues such as the conviction of the seven officers, the Chu King-wai case and the off-duty police scandal, the police brothers expressed their own perspectives and thoughts, admitting that the conduct of the police force should indeed be monitored and punished for wrongdoings. Similarly, students also brought up their opinions towards various social campaigns, and that some protests or political acts went out of line with their behaviors. This type of conversations not only help clarify misunderstandings and reconstruct truths, but also challenge us to examine and correct ourselves, and accept the other’s uniqueness that is structured differently from our own. For instance, the police are not all about blindly covering their compatriots and the students are not always mindlessly supporting any protesting methods. The goal of dialogue is not necessarily about reaching consensus between the groups. What’s more important is an open mind that allows us to understand the leading cause of our disputes. For example, a police brother would share about his initial passion when he first joined the force. Meanwhile, a student could talk about his feelings and love for the society. This allows both ends to have a more comprehensive understanding of each other’s life stories, making it easier for them to relate to the different opinions of each side today, and further touching on and facing the core of the dispute.
The Use of Useless Dialogue – What’s Next?
Many doubt the use of dialogue or even question its genuineness. Indeed, so far the dialogue has not removed our disputes and probably will not achieve that. But does it mean it is not effective? Palmer suggests that our focus should not be entirely on the conclusion, but on the intrinsic value of the process itself. He argues, truth is found not by splitting the world into “either-ors” but by embracing it as “both-and”.4 It is a paradoxical joining of apparent opposites, and if we want to know the truth, we must learn to embrace those opposites as one. In other words, the truth must encompass heterogeneous elements. And a dialogue process with tensions is a revelation of the truth.
The police brothers and students draw different conclusions based on their own perspectives, and the dialogue provided a great opportunity for them to expand or correct their views. For example, is it possible that the police’s submission to order and authority is being used by others? And is it really appropriate to always remain indifferent towards social issues? On the other hand, should the students pursue and uphold their self-proclaimed righteousness at the expense of others’ rights?
This fusion of horizon is not merely a process of truth seeking, but also reflects everyone’s vision of Hong Kong, and how Christians can testify for their faith. During the last phase of the dialogue, the police brothers and students even began to eagerly discuss the kind of society they should build and the values that they want to pass onto the future generations. In fact, from upholding their opposing views to constructing a common vision together – this process constitutes a precious reward for the dialogue. Instead of gazing each other with dispassionate cynicism and allowing their opposition to further expand, both parties are willing to embrace their differences and continue to seek visions of a better life amid these differences. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, we never expected an immediate reconciliation to come out of the dialogue. But this is a demonstration to the public of how we, and especially the church, can face without fear and co-exist with discrepancies.
This dialogue is still an ongoing experiment . It is also a self-exploring journey for the police brothers, students and coworkers involved. Over recent years, churches in Hong Kong have been criticized for being out of touch with times and the pace of the world. I hope this experimental dialogue can inspire the faith community to step up and become the prophet of our times – a community that does not only view issues with critical thinking, but also guards the future of Hong Kong by attempting to mend the divided and torn society from the bottom up.
1. At the time of this article, the Police Enoch Fellowship meeting had not yet taken place, so we only had records of the FES meeting. Refer to the article “A dialogue between the police and students–From conflicts between police and civilians to Occupy Central” (in Chinese) on Christian Times, issue 1596, available from Christian Times website http://bit.ly/2pEuE5w, accessed July 23, 2018.
2. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker Palmer, Chinese translation edition (Hong Kong: Logos Hong Kong, 129-131).
3. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 50–51.
4. The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life by Parker Palmer, Chinese translation edition (Hong Kong: Logos Hong Kong, 2011), xxvii.