Monday, January 7, 2008

On dialog, debate, and change

I was thinking recently of something I remember Bishop Gene Robinson discussing at a talk he gave on working for the "common good". He was explaining the distinction between debate and dialog, saying that in our society at this point in time, we seem much more likely to engage in debate than in true dialog...

When I listen to you, all I'm listening for are your weak points--so that I can come back at your weak points and win this discussion we're having. I'm not listening for your strongest points. I'm not trying to understand where you are, what your experience has been, what makes you think the way you do. I'm just looking for the place that I can pick you apart. So I'm listening for the worst in what you have to say. Wheras in dialog, it seems to me that I'm listening for the best that you have to say, and looking for some kind of common ground that would permit us to move forward together.

Along with Gene's remarks, my mind keeps returning to the following piece from a sermon my rector gave a couple weeks ago.
I find myself wanting less to call someone a racist or a homophobe or a religious zealout or a suburban escapist than to invite them into a conversation with those who are different from them. If there is hope in our world of endless wars, of school shootings and mall shootings, of crushing debt and poverty, of bigotry and prejudice, then I ma not sure even the most killing of statements from me to those on the other side will effect change. And change is what I want to see and experience.

I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to write a post encompassing these two quotes, as well as adding my own reflections, but for one reason or another that hasn't happened yet. But I decided to go ahead and post this anyway, as food for thought.