Dialogue: the Key to Human Communication

By: Mike Garibaldi Frick

Words have power. Their invisible, weightless energy shapes and colors the world around us like an artist's brush.

An endless supply of opinions flood us from corporate media, the Internet and other forms of mass and personal communication everyday. Soundbite-driven mass media reduces complex issues into black and white fragments forcing viewers into an artificial us-versus-them mentality. Caught in this morass of information overload, we don't have time to think and sort through all the competing perspectives.

Certainly our education system holds some responsibility for weakening the "art of conversation," but no matter the source, our interpersonal, family and civic lives are in jeopardy.

With much of the media creating adrenalin-triggering content to keep viewers in a constant state of urgency and drama, what is lost is our sense of commonality, wholeness and shared understanding. Most people sense that we live in an age of boundless potential, yet are faced with a variety of ongoing and impending crises with no clear solutions.

True dialogue gives us a method to cut through the chatter and restore us back to our core values, basic humanity and common connections. Rather then focus on divisiveness, dialogue can aid in seeing the world coherently.

Leading authorities on the theory of dialogue have developed practical applications to help organizations and individuals uncover a shared framework where greater understanding can emerge. As one of the essential building blocks of human relations, these results can be applied to all aspects of our lives: work, personal relationships, politics and community building.

William Isaacs, in Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, writes:

"Dialogue is not in the end merely about talking, it is about taking action. And at its best, dialogue includes powerful aesthetics such as: meaning, creativity, ethics and action. Dialogue fulfills deeper, more widespread needs then simply 'getting to yes.' The intention of dialogue is to reach new understanding and, in so doing, form a totally new basis from which to think and act."

Isaacs continues to say that dialogue is a "shared inquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting together. It is not something you do to another person. It is something you do with people. Dialogue is a living experience of inquiry within and between people."

The process of dialogue is nothing mysterious or complex. Through dialogue, we discover a base of shared meaning from an underlying "wholeness." By harnessing the collective intelligence of the community, dialogue becomes the cornerstone of civic practice. Being aware of the contradictions between what we say and what we do is key to opening true, meaningful and solution-based dialogue. Together, we can find new directions and new opportunities more easily then we can on our own, and in the process unite people over what matters, not divide and destroy based on fear.

Listening is also an important aspect of a true dialogue. When was the last time someone really listened to you? When was the last time you listened to someone, or even yourself, without internal chatter or stifling presuppositions? Suspension of thoughts, impulses and judgments-the simple but profound capacity to listen-lie at the very heart of dialogue.

Listening requires that we not only hear words, but also embrace, accept and gradually let go of our own inner clamor. Listening becomes a spacious, expansive activity. As we develop the inner silence of skilled listeners, we perceive more clearly the ways we participate in the world around us.

David Bohm says that while engaging in Dialogue, "... people can explore the individual and collective presuppositions, ideas, beliefs, and feelings that subtly control their interactions. The spirit of Dialogue is one of free play, a sort of collective dance of the mind that, nevertheless, has immense power and reveals coherent purpose. Once begun it becomes a continuing adventure that can open the way to significant and creative change."

In his latest book, Assault on Reason, Al Gore posits that the Internet, "perhaps the greatest source of hope," will help us bring back civic dialogue. If, as Isaacs has stated, dialogue is also about taking action, can all these bloggers and pundits translate their ideas and chatter into meaningful action? Do you think our current state of communications (Internet, main stream media, alternate media, etc.) allow for true dialogue and/or as a balance to corporate power and entrenched interests? If so, how?

For more detailed information on the process and power of dialogue, please see the "resources" section http://www.DialogueProject.net.

Communications
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