DSE Brings Dialogue to Dalai Lama Summit

Fostering universal ethics through museums: an interview with Andreas Heinecke and Orna Cohen

Orna Cohen and HH Dalai Lama

Andreas Heinecke and Orna Cohen - Dialogue Social Enterprise CEO and CCO - were part of the selected group who met His Holiness Dalai Lama last October in Dharamsala, India. The heart of the summit was how to foster universal ethics and compassion through museums. I interviewed Orna and Andreas about their experience, let me get straight to it: 

OC: Together with Andreas we wrote an article about the impact of our Dialogue exhibitions and it was published in  “Fostering Empathy Through Museums” book in 2016. This, of course, gave more visibility to our work in the field of museums. Furthermore, Elif Gokcigdem, the editor of the book, co-chaired the Summit  held in Dharamsala. This is how we become a part of this great meeting.

For years HH Dalai Lama has been spreading his idea of teaching universal ethics and compassion in a secular way. It is the proposal of his book “Beyond Religion.” What do you think?

AH: Unfortunately religion has been polarizing. On one side you have fundamentalism. On the other, you have the spiritual dimension. From the western point of view, belief is not as strong as before. Religion has fewer followers. This topic about universal ethics focuses on the spiritual side of religion. I think concentrating on human values may be successful.

OC: If the next generation is not educated on universal values as empathy, collaboration, sharing etc., I think that could end up having very unhealthy societies. However, in order to build an empathethic society, the informal education (museums, theatre, arts) will not be enough. We need to involve formal education systems (schools, universities) into this picture, too. I would go even further and argue that we should include screenplay, movie and TV producers. 

If we follow His Holiness Dalai Lama, that religion is not anymore the main source of ethics teaching, then who is, in your opinion, ought to be teaching ethics today?

AH: Basic behavior is taught at schools or in the family, that is, only in theory. However, in practice this is missing. The formal education system is not sufficient. 

Talking about the Dialogue exhibitions, Dialogue in the Dark , in particular, has been present for 30 years. What has been the role of the DiD on teaching ethics?

AH: Certainly we have been educating visitors. We would not be doing DiD for 30 years if we were not impacting. DiD has educated millions of people on values such as empathy, inclusion, tolerance and respect. DiD has been an impulse to change cognitive and behavioral patterns in blind guides and visitors.

I would assume DSE is on board with His Holiness Dalai Lama. Now, what would be the role of DSE and its exhibitions on teaching ethics?

OC: For sure we have been opening doors to promote empathy. I think our idea of MODI (Museum of Diversity and Inclusion) is part of that future. We must become stronger in our pre and post activities surrounding our exhibitions, because we sensitize visitors in that way.  We must take them  one step further and convert their awareness into actions. We are working on it, and we are good on our way.

I know that you met a very diverse group of professionals at the Summit. What can DSE take out from that network in order to improve its offer?

OC: I am convinced that scientific research can help to improve what we do. For example, to understand clearly what happened with the brain when one cannot see or when one become excluded. To understand what are the mechanisms to inclusion and what are the roots of empathy. We can collect all this wonderful latest research results and share it with our visitors through form of interactive exhibits!

AH: We met incredible people also from the arts field. I think our exhibition can learn a lot from art and incorporate some elements to Dialogue experience.

I have to ask you about your impressions on meeting His Holiness Dalai Lama.

AH: He is a worldwide leader and I was impressed by his humbleness. It is easy to see how open-minded he is. He has been very interested about science for many years. Of course, he is a religious leader, however, he stays open to all possible ideas which are proven to be useful. He has been repeating over the years a simple message. And he is an example that sometimes leadership is about repeating and refining an idea until it gets into a powerful message.

OC: He is very unpretencious. He is funny with a very good sense of humor. A very flexible leader.

Wow. I think you had a really amazing experience at Dharamsala. What are your conclusions?

AH: It was encouraging to see a broad spectrum of people from various fields such as science, theater, museums, universities, research. A lot of  such diverse people are thinking in the same direction. 

OC: I think we are at the beginning of this journey, this topic is in the air. We are really pioneers, in that sense. Now, the question is how we can improve and how we can inspire others. All in all, this Summit was the confirmation for me that we are doing a very important work.