Why am I spending so much time on dialog?
I am beginning this little blog adventure with a discussion of civil discourse and proper dialog for two reasons. First, I want to improve my ability to engage in civil discourse at home, with my family and friends, in my consulting and in my church. Second, I hope to increase my understanding of serious issues by having dialogs with many of you about the issues. My concern for improved dialog and the proper discussions of serious issues is heightened by our current political scene.
My plan is to lay the ground work for proper dialog and then begin to attack important issues. My hope is we will reach an understanding of proper dialog and then have civil discourse about serious issues. If we do, I believe we will, at worst, reach agreement to civilly disagree while understanding each others’ views. At best we will reach agreements that provide meaningful approaches to the issues.
I was reminded yet again of the need for people to practice dialog by an email I received this week. A friend and former English professor sent me an article on arguments that have occurred over the use of language. One of those spats was about Ebonics.
One sentence caught my eye: “The storm of criticism stifled sensible discussion of the issue for years.” Therein is the problem. We have a disagreement and cannot have sensible discussions about an important issue. We must overcome that problem.
Why is dialog so
I believe there are, at the least, three major reasons we find dialog so difficult: First, all parties must agree to proper listening. Dialog fails if both parties do not agree to proper listening. If I agree to listen to someone, and I am willing to admit strengths in her/his views and weaknesses in mine, but he/she engages in diatribe, then dialog will not occur. Agreement to proper listening is a necessary factor for dialog.
The second reason is closely related to the first. Psychologists for years have known of a powerful human tendency; after we form an opinion, we actively look for evidence in support of the opinion and ignore evidence counter to our opinion. When faced with counter evidence, we avoid seeing and understanding our weaknesses, by going into diatribes about problems with the other opinion or worse, attacks on the other person.
Improper listening and the tendency to look for support while ignoring counter evidence hinder dialog for the same reason; if I admit I am wrong and others are right, it hurts my pride and makes me appear weaker. The way to avoid appearing weak is to not listen to others, and seek supporting evidence, while ignoring counter evidence.
A third reason dialog is difficult is — finding fault in others is easier than facing our own faults. We feel so much better by having a diatribe against another person. It makes us feel strong and powerful.
Jesus understood the problem very well. In His usual powerful use of the Socratic Method, He asked the piercing question — why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s (or sister’s) eye and ignore the plank in your own?
The responsibility for dialog starts with me.
I must admit I personally have considerable difficulty with all three factors –first to properly listen: I want to tell people my views more than I want to hear theirs. Listening takes patience.
Next, I am human. Often I am quick to see support for my own views and I am slow to recognize and acknowledge counter evidence. It takes humility to acknowledge a weakness in my ideas.
Finally I easily focus on the faults of others, while ignoring my own faults. Ironically I often fail with people I am closest to and know well. By virtue of our closeness, I have many experiences and memories of their faults. When I feel threatened it is easy to dredge them up and be critical. It takes strength not to fall into the lure of tearing others down,
Our world needs to improve in all three areas: We need to listen better, stay open to counter evidence, and reduce our focus on the weaknesses of others. I cannot control the world, but I can work on improving myself. If I want proper dialog in the world, I have the responsibility to make sure I engage in it myself; otherwise I am seeing the sawdust in others and ignoring the plank in my own life. I am hoping a focus on dialog and the consideration of serious issues will help me improve all three factors.
I hope you will join me in this endeavor. I hope we will mutually engage in proper listening, acknowledge our mutual strengths and weakness and refrain from the tendency to race to criticism of each other. If we can achieve this goal maybe we can pass it on — our world desperately needs to develop proper dialog skills.
From time to time we will return to developing a deeper understanding of dialog but now it is time to move on. In the next post I will begin a dialog on a major issue.