A few different conversations over the last few weeks have made me more deeply appreciate just how difficult it is to have real dialogue.
It might be easy to brush this off as a problem of the Internet caused by a few particularly nasty trolls – and I have no doubt that is a problem – but I think the problem is broader than that.
Most of us don’t have opportunities to participate in productive dialogue in person, much less online. It’s generally considered polite to avoid contentious items, instead sticking to those topics where everyone can agree.
In Pygmalion, for example, Henry Higgins’ explains his plan to pass Eliza Doolittle off as upper class, saying, “I’ve taught her to speak properly; and she has strict orders as to her behavior. She’s to keep to two subjects: the weather and everybody’s health.”
Sticking to those topics may avoid conflict, but they in no way help people have real conversations across differences.
Having no experience with productive dialogue tends to lead to one of two responses when conflict does arise: either engaging in the conflict by arguing your point of view or shying away from the conflict by changing the topic.
But those aren’t the only options.
Those who have participated in productive dialogue know that conversation shouldn’t be about avoiding conflict or about having your way. It should be about learning.
I myself am still learning how to create safe spaces for real dialogue, but, I think, the most important thing I’ve learned is this:
Dialogue should be about trying to understand someone else’s point of view. It should about trying to see where someone else is coming from and appreciating the logic that leads them to their beliefs. It’s about respecting another person’s point of view and about expanding your own thinking by trying to see through someone else’s eyes.