Conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.Paul Barnwell, Educator, The Atlantic
Five Reasons for Fostering Dialogue
Our current time is shaped by painful social issues and deep division fueled by news reporting and social isolation. At a time when we have the ability to strengthen or limit any viewpoint with the click of a mouse, our personal experiences are often shaped not by efforts towards deeper understanding but by polarization. The emotional impact on many is often fear, despair and/or apathy. At this time, it is essential to move beyond a passive hope that waits for positive circumstances to arrive and to develop the skills to grow an Active Hope that enables us to open our eyes to realities, and make an active contribution to one issue. Constructive dialogue provides an opportunity to develop core social skills, overcome isolation, and connect to others to make a difference. (Source: Joanna Macy, Active Hope, 2012)
At this time of painful social issues, it is essential to move beyond a passive hope and make an active contribution.
Insights of neuroscience can help us to better understand why we are so divided. There is a distinct difference between the problems that our brains were designed to solve and the distinctly modern problems we face today. Throughout thousands of generations the human brain helped people on one side to collaborate within groups to secure advancement, while on the other side protected them from ‘other’ groups to secure survival. Professor Joshua Greene points out: “Biologically speaking humans were designed for cooperation, but only with some people. Our brains are wired for tribalism.
We intuitively divide the world into Us and Them and favor Us over Them.” (J. Greene, p. 55) Mental processes of the human mind such as implicit bias and motivated reasoning further solidified the experience of the world through the lens of Us against Them, a capacity that secured human survival in the past, but now threatens human survival in the present. Yet, there is good news too: we are wired, but not hardwired, to think through the dividing lens of Us and Them. Brains can be rewired through intentional contrasting experiences and active learning. (Source: Joshua Greene, Modern Tribes, 2013)
Definition Motivated Reasoning: when people form false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence
Definition Implicit Bias: the unconscious attribution of particular qualities (positive or negative) to a member of a certain social group.
There is a distinct difference between the problems that our brains were designed to solve and the modern problems we face today.
At this time hateful views are undermining the wellbeing and collaboration of persons and societies across our globe. Our own hateful views damage the social fabric around us, but also cost us the wholeness of our own humanity within us. In this context it is crucial to understand the conditions under which perspective change occurs.
Research in the field of Transformative Learning shows that worldviews are formed very early in life and are not easy to change, especially not by someone perceived as a threat. It seems the human mind ‘secures’ worldviews internally through mental attitudes and processes (such as motivated reasoning) as a form of self-preservation. In life, a perspective transformation leading to transformative learning usually results from a disorienting dilemma that deeply challenges one’s existing meaning making schema, which is often triggered by a life crisis or major life transition. Meaning, focusing only on processing information with logic will not create perspective change most of the time. In fact, neuroscience shows that our brains are designed to respond to fear messages with a fight/flight response that bypasses logical responses.
Transformative Learning suggests that educational practices need to be driven by space for: more process, more emotion, more engagement, and more reflection to bring belief structures (that may have previously been unconscious) to the surface for examination of their source (media, school, church, parents, etc.), re-evaluation of their current relevance, and rewriting/integration of conscious beliefs in line with one’s personal truth and inner authority. (Source: Craig N. Shealy, Making Sense of Beliefs and Values, 2015)
In life, a perspective transformation leading to transformative learning usually results from a disorienting dilemma.
Deep learning happens when we move beyond our comfort zones and enter openly into experiences that challenge and contrast with the known aspects of our identity. Connecting intentionally to someone different from us provides us with an incredible mirror that reflects back our habitual behaviors, views and values that may have previously been hidden to us. Meaning it creates an incredible opportunity for personal growth. Additionally, it can reveal an aspect of our own humanity that had previously been denied and we may discover that in most areas of life we aren’t so different after all – remembering that the DNA of any two people on Earth is 99.6% identical.
Yet, functions of the mind such as implicit bias and motivated reasoning keep us locked in our views. Ethnic diversity by itself does not yet create deeper understanding, but can have the opposite effect and trigger social isolation into familiar groups. Enhanced social skills, such as empathy, inquiry, active listening, and curiosity, along with the capacity to relate to other views are crucial to unlock the rich opportunities of diversity. For one example, read this powerful ancient story of the blind men on the power of diverse perspectives. Our world is complex and we need the ‘Other’ to experience diverse perspectives in order to develop a more complete image of reality and access deeper wisdom to solve today’s critical world issues, from climate change to race relations and nuclear disarmament. We need intercultural and interracial dialogues in order to better understand and serve the vibrant, aching, and diverse world we live in.
Our world is complex and we need the ‘Other’ to experience diverse perspectives in order to develop a more complete image of reality and access deeper wisdom.
At a time where oversimplifying and hostile messages dominate our public discourse and polarize our societies, a Culture of Dialogue is urgently needed. Dialogue has the power to go far beyond a discussion or debate and can be defined as discussing areas of disagreement frankly in order to resolve them. Yet, dialogue is an art and does not happen by itself.
The dialogues that we encourage are conversations in which participants grow deeper mutual understanding, which in turn can support safe spaces in which shared trust and collaborative actions become reality.
Dialogue is distinct from debate; in fact, participants in dialogue often explicitly agree to set aside persuasion and debate so that they can focus on mutual understanding.
Constructive dialogues provide us with concrete and practical opportunities to: move beyond isolation, develop social skills, and build trust across divisions that are the base of joined efforts for coexistence, justice and social change.
Dialogue has the power to go far beyond a discussion or debate and can be defined as discussing areas of disagreement frankly in order to resolve them.
Contact us to explore how our resources can support constructive dialogue in your context.