dialogue is not for wimps

We find comfort living in idealogical bubbles, hanging around like-minded souls. But what if those bubbles burst? What happens when family or friends not only disagree with us, but have planted their banners in camps far across the ideological divide?

We are hearing more and more about the need for dialogue, both in the church and in the world.

Next week, this blog will be six years old. For six years I have been trying to explore and promote the concept of dialogue. Six years later, I feel I know less than when I began.

I spent almost 20 years travelling to continental and international leadership meetings of Marianist Lay Communities, an International Association of the Faithful. Respectful dialogue is a Marianist trait. We believe in “unity amid diversity”. We believe in “staying at the table” during difficult conversations. We believe in active listening and inclusivity of voices.

Nice words are easy to write or speak. They are much harder to live. I’m beginning to wonder if they can sometimes become a barrier to true, effective dialogue.

I’ve sat in too many meetings where we dance around the elephant in the room, seeking peace in platitudes and writing up nice reports. We talk of dialogue, but avoid certain issues at all cost if we know there will be disagreement. In a world that is becoming increasingly divisive, we desperately cling to unity by avoiding all conflict. We ignore disagreement, hoping it will go away.

Dialogue is not a “new age-y” form of conversation where all are affirmed in their oneness with each other and the universe. True and meaningful dialogue is tough. It is messy. Unlike debate it does not seek conflict for conflict’s sake, but conflict can’t always be avoided.

Conflict should energize, not silence dialogue.

Dialogue is not for wimps! This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in these past six years. I have written many articles on dialogue for this blog and other publications. I can write nice words. I often fail miserably at dialogue in real life.

I’m an introvert who hates confrontation. I clam up when faced with a bully, allowing them to dominate the conversation.

I obsess over each word I write. I obsess over words I’ve spoken. I sit on fences or straddle them so as not to insult or anger anyone. I tailor my words to the listener.

We need more civility and gentleness in the world, yes, but sometimes trying too hard to “be nice” simply feeds our need (my need) to be liked by all.

The first step of dialogue is to verbalize your own thoughts without fear. To speak your own truth with courage.

This is what I believe… This is why I believe it…

If these words are followed by proverbial crickets, then all I have done is provided myself with a soap-box and had a good rant. If a rant takes place in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, is it still a rant? Probably. But it’s certainly not a dialogue.

If someone hears my words and responds with their own words,

Yes, but this is what I believe… This is why I believe it…

Now we have the beginnings of a dialogue!