The minutes were drafted before the senior management meetings took place at the institution where I once worked. If they knew in advance what decisions would be made, why were they meeting  Were they just going through the motions of making decisions  I realized: these would not be the kinds of managers who would be described as 'open'-to new approaches, to comments from colleagues that something is not a good idea or even to people who are 'different'.

When I became a consultant to nonprofit organizations, my life became filled with meetings: information-sharing, brainstorming, problem-solving and planning meetings, and dialogues, among others. It soon became obvious that information is more effectively shared on paper or by email. I had two other significant insights: almost everyone listens respectfully but rarely is anyone interested in changing their own opinion; and, because we all spoke English or French, we assumed that when others used words, they attached the same meanings to them as we would. Rarely was that true.

In schools that now include up to 24 languages on the playground, or in international gatherings, including the most recent Anglican gathering at Lambeth, where English is neither everyone's mother tongue, nor necessarily spoken by all participants, there is a compelling need for us to find alternative ways of understanding each other. Translators may translate the words correctly, but they can't translate the associations and nuances of what's been said. And if the listener comes from a different culture, the words, even if correctly translated, may receive a different understanding

Even when we understand each other's words, how much genuine communication takes place when people who radically disagree come together to participate in a dialogue  Like many others, I have participated in dialogues-and come away disappointed that the disagreement continues. It took me a long time to recognize that before we can reduce the distance between us, we must respectfully speak with each other-listening to the speaker's words and the speaker's heart (sometimes described as the words beyond the words)-so that we will be able to see ourselves as the other sees us.

Meetings, in the traditional sense of a group of people with an agenda to get through, or even group dialogues, may not be the best medium for accomplishing this. In Britain, as a result of recognizing that to love your neighbour is harder to follow for children who grow up without meeting neighbours who happen to have other beliefs, Accord, a new organization of humanists and leaders of various faiths is working to ensure that faith-based schools have cross-cultural cross-faith student populations.

Another place to begin might be involvement in the program Living Libraries. (, a response in Denmark to a man's killing in 1993. Now in 23 countries-including, as it happens, a program recently established in Lambeth-the goal of Living Libraries is to break stereotypes by challenging the most common prejudices in a positive and humorous manner.

The Danish Living Library is a mobile library set up as a space for dialogue and interaction (normally one on one).Visitors (readers) at the Living Library are given the opportunity to speak informally with people on loan (books), people they'd normally never meet. London's Living Library catalogue includes common stereotypes in its description of the books. Readers borrow books for 30 minutes of Questions and Answers. The books are only to tell their story and answer questions: no preaching or converting is allowed. Police officer books have been renewed multiple times; an ex-homeless person book was borrowed non-stop; a blind book discovered that a Somali refugee book was a neighbour.

The London organizer advises readers to choose a book that challenges their prejudice. The program in Australia, which includes schools and nursing homes, has been so successful that a librarian has been given a grant to establish a national strategy.

Douglas College in New Westminster uses the same operating model but builds on the college's strengths as an academic institution. When the Douglas College program began in 2006, it was agreed that the books would be those faculty who volunteered for the task and readers would borrow their books at one of the Douglas College campuses. Since then, the College has been developing a partnership with the Coquitlam Public Library. In early October, the College and Library held a Living Library event at a local mall, offering books one may never have met, as well as the Douglas College books. Their hope is that this will result in an enriched catalogue of books available for borrowing.

If you were offered the opportunity to borrow a living book, which one would you choose?