Let’s Talk! The Lost Art of Dialogue in a Divided World

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When did talking to each other become so hard? Somewhere along the way, maybe as the church lost its importance in our communities, it became easier to sort ourselves into groups rather than gather as a whole. We began to hang out more and more with others who shared our lifestyle, or interests, or education, or had similar financial means. I know this happened to me. I was a teacher in the public system, so I certainly ran into a mixed pot of people at work, but when I came home and got comfortable, I spent most of my time with the same group of friends. Talking to these people was easy because, for the most part, we shared the same values and rarely had disagreements of any serious kind.  That’s the problem.

We get lulled into thinking that everyone is like us and thinks like us. So it comes as a BIG surprise when we discover differently. Think of last year’s American election and the shock awaiting the Democrats and much of the rest of the world when the results came in. Where were we? It seems all of us surprised people had not been talking to Trump supporters. I vowed then and there that I wouldn’t knowingly allow myself to be so isolated and naive again.

If  we’re going to move in closer to others who think differently, we have to practice talking to each other and this isn’t easy in these emotionally and politically charged times. I find that it helps to be generous to people who I disagree with. My generosity is made easier when I look for things we have in common. I find that most of us want at least some of the same things for our families and loved ones. Getting to these shared places is the tricky part.

Where I live in Quebec the government has just passed Bill 62 which does not allow Muslim women wearing the niqab or burka from receiving public services while covered. This blog post is not about that issue per se but about the discourse around this issue. It is polarizing because it has all the elements that make it a “hot” topic. It touches on fears and freedoms, oppression, misogyny, religion, and race.

I had two very different discussions around this issue. In the first, there was a feeling that people were locked into their positions so fiercely there was no room for dialogue. A real exchange can’t  happen when people aren’t open to listening to each other, don’t agree on the “facts,” nor have a willingness to find common ground. I felt discouraged.

I had another dialogue a few days later with someone else which had a totally different flavour and gave me hope that we can find ways to work ourselves out of this great divide.  We did not agree, but as soon as I spoke I could see that she was listening to me and maybe even finding what I had to say interesting. She didn’t feel the same way as I did and brought up her own points. I listened and was thoughtful. In that moment, I knew that in order to find our way out of this mess this is exactly the kind of conversation we need to be having with each other.

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I long for more of these talks, now that I know it’s possible. Maybe we can change the world one discussion at a time.

 

*Some of the language “to sort ourselves” and “to move in closer” comes from theories researched by Brené Brown in her book Braving the Wilderness. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in finding your way to “true belonging.”

 

 

9 thoughts on “Let’s Talk! The Lost Art of Dialogue in a Divided World

  1. Interesting thoughts. Social media,
    although it’s great in many ways (ie I probably wouldn’t be in contact with you now if it weren’t for social media) it’s also limiting. It can’t possibly replace the face to face social relationships we need and crave. So many people are attached to social media rather than feeling part of the community they live in.
    As for bill 62 it does seem to polarize people. Although I consider myself very racially tolerant I can’t help but feel the burka which covers the whole face except the eyes is very oppressive for women. And also if we were in their country we would cover our heads out of respect for their culture but it doesn’t seem to work like that when they come to Canada. It’s not something I would fight for but would try to accept as that’s my nature. But I agree with you I end up wanting to be with like minded people which is limiting too. We should be able to be have different opinions and still be friends with them. I’m going to work on that more with others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Vivian. I love getting feedback! Social media has certainly changed my life for the better, especially living here in the country and far away from half of my family. You are so right, though, that it can’t and shouldn’t replace face to face relationships. I find that when we talk about these charged issues online people are certainly a lot less kind and tolerant than they would be in person. (At least Im hoping this is true!) People are much harder to dislike closeup as Brené Brown says. I’m convinced if we are going to find common ground we have to be having these conversations in person. And we’re going to run into people that will make having these dialogues impossible for some of the reasons I mentioned in the post. It’s not easy. In the end, we can only speak our truth and hope it lands on receptive shoulders. So glad you wrote and shared.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An interesting post! My husband and I were of a similar mind during the Brexit referendum here in Scotland. Everyone we spoke to shared our views. We believed that people would see sense and vote to remain part of the EU. Nothing could have prepared us for the shock of the result. We were talking to like-minded people though. You’re right – we need to get out there and have a dialogue with those who hold opposing views, in order to be able to reach a middle ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting isn’t it that this shock at results we weren’t expecting became so widespread in such a short period of time? My daughter lives in London and during the Brexit vote said she too hadn’t met anyone who was pro withdrawal. If nothing else, it has certainly been a wake up call. I’m surprised at how much more involved I have been in the last year. It just feels like now is not the time to be complacent about anything. I find I’m trying to find ways to speak out and share that are compatible with my country lifestyle. Luckily, nature is a great teacher and many of the same issues we are facing in the world are also found on a smaller scale in our towns and neighbourhoods. Always lots of opportunities to practice speaking out and being open to listening to others!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Here in the US it’s a challenge to be optimistic at the moment. I think the social forces which led to Trump have always existed here, but they don’t usually have a single outlet, so it’s possible to ignore or dismiss them. I’ve talked to a couple of Trump supporters since the election who seem like good-natured and generous people on a personal level. After the election, a friend of mine wrote on Facebook:

    “Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story called ‘The Denunciation,’ set during the Spanish Civil War. A communist walks into a bar and sees an old friend who is a fascist. He has a number of flashbacks of them hunting and drinking together, but at the end of the story he turns him into the police anyway.”

    My friend’s point was that there are issues on which compromise isn’t possible. But the Hemingway reference also illustrates the fact that if we don’t focus on those particular issues, we may get along very well. That idea is a source of optimism for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lots to think about here. I love the Ernest Hemmingway story reference. It’s hard not to agree that there are some issues where to compromise might be dangerous or foolhardy. I keep going back to Carl Jung’s theory of the “third way”. The third way is a solution that is unexpected or unthought of that emerges when opposing positions are held (either internally or externally). The tension of the opposites is what allows the new solution to be born. My hope is that by accepting other’s opposing views (not agreeing with them) this third way has a chance to present itself. In the meantime, finding comfort like you, in knowing we can get along very well – most of the time.
      Thanks so much for sharing. It has given me lots to think about on this Saturday morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting! Social media is great in bringing people together but it’s also robbing us of our ability to communicate fully with each other. Instead of meaningful conversations or letter writing, we’ve been reduced to hitting ‘like’ buttons and sending text messages which often don’t convey our true thoughts and opinions. When we surround ourselves with like-minded people we naively believe that our views are those of the majority. I don’t tend to get into politics but this holds true in many other areas. Many of my friends are gardeners or farmers that use organic methods to grow food and nurture the land. We are all so passionate about living an organic lifestyle that we assume that this is the ‘norm’ and we’re often shocked to realise that not everyone follows the same lifestyle. I’m trying hard not to press my views onto people that don’t want to hear them, but instead try to keep an open mind when talking with people I haven’t met before.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for taking part in this conversation. My husband and I were organic market gardeners for a number of years back in the eighties before it had “taken off” in the same ways it has now. People might not have understood the difference between organic and standard agricultural practices back then but they could see and taste the difference. I think most everyone is open to people sharing – how else do we find out about good ideas and practices? Pressing our views on others is a whole other thing. It implies a certain self righteousness and judgment that alienates many people. So I say share away, but I don’t have to tell you that, you already have a blog!

    Like

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