It feels like the entire world has become like cats involved in a staring competition with everyone wondering who is going to blink first. We have dug trenches in our minds which we will fortify at all cost, as we engage with others with the sole intent of blasting them into the next century and gaining as much ground over them as we possibly can. I have never known a world so divided, so full of rage, and so crippled by fear, suspicion and paranoia.
Engaging in transformative dialogue is the only way we will ever grow in wisdom as a planet. But to do this a number of things need to happen.
Someone has to begin the deescalation, and it may as well be me. If I insisting on waiting for the other person to go first, then it simply perpetuates the stalemate. Blinking is not a sign of weakness. In the animal kingdom it sends a message to the other creature that we are friendly, that we are not a threat. When engaging in transformational dialogue, we must begin by being friendly and non-threatening. We must send signals to the other person that we are not about to pounce on them as soon as we catch them sleeping.
If we spend our entire time thinking up what we are going to say next while another person is speaking then we are not engaging in active listening. Practicing active listening where we do not plan what to say next can be extremely difficult at first, but, when mastered, it can make an enormous difference to the way in which the conversation goes.
I once had problems with a member of my church. I had clearly upset him but I didn’t know why. He would do things like book the roofer to come and work on the vicarage at seven in the morning on my day off. I had recently finished a course in active listening and decided to put my new-found skills to the test in trying to resolve the problem.
I invited him into my office. I was so nervous. I think he probably was too. He was probably expecting a fight. He sat down and I simply said, “talk to me.” Then I waited. It felt like an uncomfortable age before he began speaking. But once the flood gates opened he was able to tell me all the things that were bothering him. It was painful for me to hear them, but not half as painful as having to let the roofer in at seven in the morning on my day off.
When he had finished speaking, I thanking him for his honesty and vulnerability and suggested we go through his grievances one by one and see what we could do to resolve them. By the end of our conversation we were both beaming. I then asked if I could pray for us both. At the end of the prayer he was crying. He stood and hugged me. My relationship with that paritioner was transformed that day, and all because I blinked first, and actively listened.
I am always deeply moved by the stories from the trenches in World War I in which the Germans and the Allies all sang Silent Night and then got up and played football together on Christmas Day. Finding common ground helps us to humanize one another. It reminds us that in our humanity we actually have more in common with each other than we think. One only has to look at DNA to see that. I share 99.9 percent of my DNA with the rest of the human race. It’s only the 0.1% that makes me different from the rest, and yet that’s the part we tend to focus on the most. If we spent more time focussing on what unites us rather than what divides us, imagine what collaboration could happen across the globe and how far we as a planet could evolve!
Because of the relitivisation of the truth, everything has become so much more personal these days. We have a much more personal investment in the outcomes of our encounters with others because so much to do with our core beliefs, identity and self-worth is riding on it. But while we continue to vilify people who have a differnt opinion to ourselves, especially an opinion that we might assume is a rejection of our core selves, it might, perhaps, be helpful, to remember that we are arguing over the 0.1% of ourselves that is different to others. Fundamentally we are still the same.
Not only that, we are all sick and doing the best we can with what we’ve got. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws and growing edges, and that includes me. If I become willing to recognise that, it becomes a lot easier to sit down at table with those whose opinions I disagree with. It also helps me to focus on principles before personalities. I am debating the issues, not whether or not the person with the belief is a good person. We need to begin from a position of mutual respect.
Open to Transformation
This is easier said than done. There are all sorts of things which may stand in my way, but at the heart of it all is fear. If I go in open to being changed, then the other person may bulldoze me, my feelings may be ignored, my beliefs may get blown out of the water. If I open myself up to tranformation my truths, which I have clung to so tightly for so long, may end up scattered to the wind. What will I have left to hold on to then?
Being open to transformational dialogue takes an enormous amount of courage and a bucket load of prayer. I certainly cannot engage in it in my own strength. If I do, then my ego kicks in and self-reliance helps to redig all my trenches. I have to ask for help to be open to transformation, to have the courage to engage, and the strength to hang in there.
Aristotle once said that “the sum of the whole is greater than its parts.” When we engage in transformational dialogue, something magic happens. When we come open to learning something new, seeing something from a different perspective, we leave ourselves open to the possibility that collective we might discover something that is above and beyond what any one person is bringing to the table.
Imagine that applying in the world on a macro-level. Imagine transformational dialogue taking place where wars are raging, or where migrants are fleeing, or where climate change is impacting. Imagine it on a national level when seeking new and better ways to provide healthcare or educate our children. Imagine it on a microlevel in resolving disputes amongst neighbours or an estranged member of the family.
What areas of your life would you like to experience transformational dialogue? Are you willing to blink first, actively listen, find common ground, recognise we are all sick and be open to discovering something bigger and better than anything you could possibly have imagined before?
If you say yes to the above, then why not begin today, one conversation at a time and let the transformation begin!