I remember when we used to be able to disagree with each other.
Friends could have a debate, and go home friends. We could work alongside others, and build neighborhoods with folks with whom we shared differing views. Somehow we managed to identify common ground, and get things done.
Those were the days.
Or maybe it was all smoke and mirrors.
In any case, it sure seems like dialogue is dead now. It has become acceptable to scoff at the very idea we might have a conversation with one with whom we disagree.
These days hyperbole and name-calling have replaced any give-and-take. Cranking up the volume, and soundbites scripted for the talk-show circuit try to masquerade as discourse.
When was the last time you heard (or participated in) a calm and reasoned debate around deeply held perspectives. How did it end?
The Sounds of Dialogue
When I was a know-it-all kid I thought Dad was just being disagreeable when he’d advocate for a view in which I knew he did not believe. Years later I came to realize that those debates were training exercises — Dad’s way of teaching us kids what dialogue sounds like.
Taking unpredictable positions, he forced us to listen first. Canned positions were rarely sufficient. Exploratory conversation was essential. It took some give-and-take to understand where he was coning from — to figure out where and how we might connect.
None of us around the dinner table (he always staged these exercises over a meal) appreciated the tedious way in which he orchestrated the drill. Rarely was there a winner. What was the point? Years latter we came to appreciate the reality that, intentional or not, those sessions were a practicum in the art of dialogue. We 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; tearing down in favor of building; being audacious in 140 characters; or producing the coveted viral moment.
It’s about the highlight reel and a WOW moment. It is controversy posing as discourse. It’s about a headline, a spotlight, or a reality gig.
It is about making my point and winning the moment. Without respect to implications on the next opportunity, it is about laying claim, and staking territory.
And before we know it, we’ve gone a day…or a week…or a month without engaging in a single real piece of dialogue.
Little by little, have we forgotten what it sounds like?
It isn’t how-was-your-day-mine-was-okay stuff. It is more than comparing golf scores and vacation itineraries.
Dialogue is about honest explorations and intentional bridge-building.
If we really want more than just attention…if we care about meaningful movement…if our communication is more than posturing or pandering…we can still 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.
Unless we rediscover the art, very little of real consequence will change — whether the venue is personal, professional, social or political.
Will we disagree. Certainly. But we might discover that those faint memories of when we could disagree and debate and walk away with self respect and friendship in tact weren’t a figment of our imagination at all. Those were the good ole days. And they weren’t so bad.