skeleton on computerI remember when we used to be able to disagree.

Friends could vigorously debate, and go home friends. We could go to school, work alongside, and build neighborhoods with folks with whom we held differing views, values and convictions. We could even talk about it.

Those were the days.

But that kind of dialogue may be dead.

These days hyperbole and name-calling have replaced honest give-and-take. Today cranking up the volume, and soundbites scripted for the talk-show circuit pose as discourse.

When was the last time you heard (or participated in) a thoughtful debate around deeply held perspectives. How did it end?

What Dialogue Sounds Like

When I was a know-it-all kid I thought Dad was just being disagreeable when he’d advocate for a view or idea that I knew he did not believe. Years later I came to realize that those debates were training exercises — Dad’s way of engaging us in the art of dialogue.

Taking unpredictable positions, he forced us to listen first. Canned positions were rarely sufficient. It took some give-and-take to understand where he was coning from.

Of course, I didn’t appreciate the exercise. It was tedious, and no one ever won. What was the point? I came to realize, intentional or not, it was a practicum in what Mom called disagreeing without being disagreeable.

I am not good at it; but I learned what it sounds like. And if it isn’t dead, the art is fading fast.

These days it’s about nailing the soundbite; sticking to the talking points no matter what the question might be; being audacious in 140 characters; or producing the coveted viral moment.

It’s about Sports Center and WOW. And controversy that is passed off as discourse.

It’s about a headline, a spotlight, or a reality gig.

It is about winning the moment. Without respect to implications on the next opportunity, it is about laying claim, staking territory.

And before we know it, we’ve gone a day…or a week…or a month without a single real conversation.

This isn’t how-was-your-day-mine-was-okay stuff; or comparing golf scores and vacation itenaries. This is about honest explorations and intentional bridge-building.

If we seek more than attention…if we care about meaningful movement…if our communication is more than posturing or pandering…we can rescue dialogue from the brink of extinction.

Where and how to begin?

Step away from the podium. Spend some time listening — not for ways to shoot holes in what you hear; but for common ground…for shared aspirations.

This is where dialogue begins. Without it, very little of real substance will change — whether the venue is personal, business, social or political.

Will we disagree. Certainly.

But I remember when we used to be able to disagree…without being so disagreeable.