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!

5 thoughts on “dialogue is not for wimps

  1. There is a “price for nice.” It is not worth the price if the other is not really willing to listen on an ongoing basis. If you are continuously losing your peace, that is a price too high. Avoiding all stress is not a good answer either. Balance in give and take is a good thing.

  2. You right about the importance of dialogue, and I agree with that. However, for a dialogue to occur, each participant must be willing to listen carefully and openly to really hear what is being said. Sometimes dialogue does not lead to agreement, but it does lead to an understanding, and it is only with understanding that we can ever hope to progress to cooperation.

  3. “dialogue is not for wimps”. I have been obsessed with your challenge and can’t really come up with an appropriate response.
    At a wedding recently the Minister made that same reference to I Cor. 13. Is there a difference between debate, discussion, conversation, dialogue? Dialogue, I think, necessitates the preconditions of exiting one’s silo and to be willing to alter and be altered- and thus rejected and abused in our innermost being, our “truth”, or alternatively accountable for the change we wrought. It’s pretty ludicrous because I don’t think most of us even really know our truth. It’s sort of a random thought but, I think that is is one reason why we – most of us – in our heart of hearts, are afraid of God. Why we have such difficulty coming to terms with the concept of mercy, even though we throw it around with abandon.
    You are right, we need to start with its infantile essential: civility. That is where Jesus meets Aristotle, civil-ization, and invites us to go beyond orderliness, “concensus”, conversation, debate and risk hurt, endure rejection, to be altered as a corelative of altering. In this sense the notion of martyrdom has been misunderstood, misrepresented. “Standing” in a position of dialogue is first the standing in the firmness of naked self and the willlingness to change or be changed, being rejected, our “nakedness” abused – the ultimate humiliation – but unconvinced, continuing to stand.

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