As this little plant opens up, it collects the morning dew.
Opening……I was recently reading an interview with Richard Sennett where he was talking about co-operation, and one of the things he was discussing was the difference between “dialogue” and “dialectics”.
Although that latter word might seem strange to you, it’s what we do a lot. As we converse with one another we each set out our views or beliefs and the idea of a dialectic discussion is to try to find “the truth”, or to achieve a shared view. (It’s not exactly that, but that’s probably close enough for this post!)
He proposed what we need to do if we want to live together, is dialogue.
In dialectic conversations, opposing positions (thesis and antithesis) confront one another with the goal of resolving conflicts (as a synthesis). “In dialectic[s]…the verbal play of opposites should gradually build up a synthesis…the aim is to come eventually to a common understanding. Skill in practicing dialectic[s] lies in detecting what might establish that common ground.” Dialogical conversation, on the other hand, is much more open ended, not necessarily seeking the goal of resolution. “Though no shared agreements may be reached, through the process of exchange people may become more aware of their own views and expand their understanding of one another.” There is an openness of exchange in dialogics that is captured by idioms like ‘bouncing ideas off each other,’ ‘thinking out loud,’ or ‘brainstorming.’ Because the exchange is not structured as assertion, defend, assertion, etc. one has the space to be inventive, creative, and wrong. The value of dialogical conversation then is not the resolution of conflicts, but is to create a greater understanding, empathy, and sociability between parties; in other words, the goal is exposure
So, in dialogue, he says, we seek to understand the other. We don’t refute or challenge what they say in order to deny it, or modify it to suit our own views or purposes, but instead we ask more about why the person thinks that, or says that, and in so doing we might not achieve a “consensus” but we do achieve an understanding. Build that in with tolerance and you have a way of living with difference. (Dialectics, he says, seeks elimination of difference)
I found that in consultations with patients it was important to understand not just what they were experiencing but what sense they were making of that experience. And that sense might have a religious or a political/social basis which I personally didn’t share, but if I was to do my job well, I didn’t need to replace the sense they were making of things with my own personal beliefs and values. Rather I needed to understand, as best I could, what was different about this person – what beliefs and values were important to them in helping them to make sense of their experience.
That process is a process of opening up. It involves asking open questions, not ones where I have an answer or two up my sleeve, and I’m just waiting to produce the “right” one.
So, here’s what I’m thinking……when we talk to someone else, how do we open up the conversation, rather than close it down?
How can we be open to difference, instead of trying to eliminate it?