Building Bridges – Conversation in a Time of Division

Posted By on December 3, 2019

[music playing] [hymn playing] “All Are Welcome”>>ASSOCIATE DEAN JACQUELINE
REGAN: Loving and gracious God, who teaches the
ministers of your Church to seek not to be served, but to
serve, send your Spirit upon us as we respond to the
challenges of our time, and as we foster conversations
that engage and enlighten. Grant that we may be effective
in action, gentle in ministry, and constant in prayer. We ask this in the name
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Please be seated.>>THERESA NGUYEN: “If there is
one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this– dialogue. We are called to promote
a culture of dialogue by every possible
means, and thus to rebuild the
fabric of society. The culture of dialogue
entails a true apprenticeship, and a discipline that
enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners,
to respect the foreigner, the immigrant, and people from
different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today, we urgently need
to engage all the members of society in building a culture
which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter, and in
creating a means for building consensus and
agreement, while seeking the goal of a just, responsive,
and inclusive society.” [MUSIC – “IF YOU BELIEVE AND I
If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy
Spirit must come down and set God’s people free, and
set God’s people free, and set God’s people free;
the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.>>TAIGA GUTERRES: “The
Church’s social teaching is not based only on simple humanism,
but on a deep Christological motif. God has so identified with
our humanity that each of us, as human beings, has been lifted
to a dignity beyond compare. Thus whatever does
figures or damages a human being is an
insult to God’s own self. In a more poetic
way, Karl Rahner has envisioned that because of
the word of God in our midst, it can now be seen that each
of us is a little word of God. The one word of God
uttered in our midst reveals to us our own
beauty, because we are each a little word, and
together we will spell out something great.” [MUSIC – “IF YOU BELIEVE AND I
If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy
Spirit must come down and set God’s people free, and
set God’s people free, and set God’s people free;
the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.>>CLAIRE SOUPENE: “You
are the salt of the Earth. But if salt loses its taste,
with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer
good for anything but to be thrown out
and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot
be hidden nor do they light a lamp and then put it
under a bushel basket. It is set on a lamp
stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light
must shine before others that they may see
your good deeds and glorify your
Heavenly Father.” [MUSIC – “IF YOU BELIEVE AND I
If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy
Spirit must come down and set God’s people free, and
set God’s people free, and set God’s people free;
the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.>>ASSOC. DEAN REGAN: Together we pray. “Lord, make me an
instrument of Your peace. Where uncivil words prevail,
show me how to model love. Help me to remember the
God given dignity of all, and invite others
to do the same. Show me how to build
bridges and not walls, and see first what unites us
rather than how we diverge. Let me seek to understand
before asking to be understood. Give me a listening heart filled
with empathy and compassion. May I be clear in
sharing my own position and respectful and civil in
describing those of others. Let me never tolerate
hateful ideas. May I invite all to
charity and love. Lord, help me to imitate
your compassion and mercy. Make me an instrument of peace. Amen.” [hymn playing]
“World Peace Prayer”>>DEAN THOMAS STEGMAN, S.J.:
Good morning, everyone, and welcome. It’s nice to see a
room full of people at this great event, which
is our last on campus event of the semester. And I’m so delighted that Meghan
and Kara have so successfully taken the torch from the
wonderful forebearers of our Continuing Ed program. We’re in very good hands there. One of things I love
about Continuing Ed is it’s a way of keeping
my dear friend and mentor, Dan Harrington, alive. So take that Advent
course because Dan’s words are as relevant now as ever. And then just a
little caveat, then I will introduce the speaker. Because my inability
to bilocate, as much as I like being here
and seeing so many friends here, I’m going to dine–it’s
going to look bad, but I’m going to dash right
after this introduction because I have to be across
campus for another meeting. It has nothing to do
with my unworthiness before Theresa or the
fact that I’m unhappy. No. I wish I could be here. It is a great delight
to me to introduce one of our own faculty
this morning, Dr. Theresa O’Keefe, who’s
been teaching here at Boston College since 2005. I think she started
in high school, and she teaches in the area
of adolescent and young adult faith. As a practical
theologian, she has been assisting ministerial
and educational leaders from diverse settings
to read their contexts and analyze their impact
on constituencies. Drawing from multiple
disciplines, especially sociology and
developmental psychology, she tries to unpack the
complexity of culture and to think theologically
about ministerial settings. By doing so, she hopes to help
educational and ministerial leaders do their work
more effectively. Dr. O’Keefe is a native of
Pittsfield, Massachusetts. And prior to her
doctoral studies, she served the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Springfield in the Office of Religious
Education for 10 years. She has published multiple
articles and book chapters over the past few years. A particular note is a 2014
article, “Growing Up Alone: The New Normal of
Isolation in Adolescence,” which is found in the
Journal of Youth Ministry. Another publication
I’d point or highlight is “The Adolescent and
the Transforming Spirit,” which is found in
the edited collection from STM Faculty called
“The Holy Spirit: Setting the World
on Fire,” which was published by Paulist
Press a couple of years ago. More recently, in
December of 2018, she had an article published
in the Christian Educational Journal called
“Colliding Ecosystems: Interpreting the Complex
Social World of Adolescent Children of Immigrants.” Finally– and I’d be remiss
not to mention her book– Navigating toward
Adulthood: A Theology of Ministry With
Adolescents, which was published last
year by Paulist, won an award from the
Catholic Press Association in the area of catechetics. The work Professor
O’Keefe presents today in today’s workshop draws
from her dissertation research. For that work, she examined how
the conversation in the setting of a known divide– in the case of her dissertation,
the Catholic-Jewish dialogue– how that conversation
in a known divide contributed to the learning
among the adult participants. She has given more attention
to this topic in recent years as the political and
social cultures have made such dialogue both more
necessary and difficult. We have a very timely
presentation today and I ask that you please join
me in welcoming Dr. Theresa O’Keefe, who will be speaking
to us on Building Bridges: A Conversation in
a Time of Division. [applause]>>DR. THERESA O’KEEFE:
It’s good to be here with you this morning. I’m looking around
the room and seeing lots of familiar faces,
which makes it kind of fun and a little less
threatening, you know? It’s not a room
full of strangers. So let’s just move
right into things because we have a
lot to discuss today. So I start by inviting you
to imagine, or to recall, a discussion on a difficult
but important topic. Imagine or recall. And it’s around which you know
or you expect disagreement, with an individual– since
you are a group of ministers and educators, I’m
crafting it this way– with an individual
you’re either directing, or a group that you’re
leading, some sort of relationship such as that. So imagine that. Put yourself in that space. Now imagine going
completely off the rails. [laughter] Right. Now, the next question. What emotions arise for you? Hold that thought for a moment. What emotions arise? Do a little accounting– an
inner accounting assessment. Alright. I’m going to do this
simply by a show of hands. For how many people
was it anxiety? OK. That’s a good number, right? Discomfort, at least? No? Disorientation? Anger? Oh, there we go. [laughter] Fear? How about guilt? A couple of hands for that one. And for who was it exciting? [laughter] A couple. And for whom was
it a source of joy? I will note– let the record
show, no hands were raised. OK. One of the interesting things
I did find in my dissertation work was that many consider
the recipe for things like, that talking across a
known divide with somebody else, to be– they presume ahead
of time that’s going to be uncomfortable. They presume ahead of time that
it will be a source of harm, that it will be rancorous,
it’ll be insulting, that there’ll be debate
in a nasty kind of way. And as a result, people
self select to not engage. That’s a very important
thing to pay attention to as people presume for the
worst, and therefore avoid. Now, the emotions
are not unimportant. In fact, the emotions are very
important because they point to deeper realities about life. They suggest differences
of experience. They potentially challenge our
values or we read them as such, that when we see something
in another that’s different from
ourselves, we then make value judgments
about who they are and what they hold dear, as
being different from ourselves. It can be a challenge to our
theological perspectives, which can be unsettling. It can be of a different
political outlook. It can be– and this is
very important today– the fear of winner take all. That the stakes are
too high to be wrong. Again, this is a very
important, I think, sense today in our
current climate. It can be a fear
of loss, very often is, or anger over some
sense of injustice. These are important
indicators to tell us something about what’s
deeper, what’s going on. So not unimportant. In fact, very important. But another piece I also
want to underline here is that the encounter with the
other can feel like a threat to one’s self worth. Particularly,
one’s moral virtue. And you have to notice
the cultural world in which these realities become
more pointed and important for us. However, as ministers
and educators, which I know many of you are,
we have to deal with these. We have to lead groups of people
in conversation productively, whether it’s about simple
things like the finance committee of a parish
or what have you, that you’ve got to engage with
people who are going to have different points of view. And the cultural climate causes
those different points of view to get exacerbated. You may have to
facilitate groups in this. You have to talk about
difficult topics with people that you know or you presume
are not in agreement on things, right? So it’s not something
that you can easily avoid, working with
folks whose views are different from one’s own. So let’s pause for a moment. I’ll ask you to
pause for a moment and think, as you came here
today, what topics do you find or anticipate as
difficult or problematic in the communities
which you serve? You all came here
for a reason, it’s not just because I’m so
wonderful as a speaker. [laughter] But you all came driven by
something– some concern. So what emotions do you
associate with those and why? And what do you hope to learn
today for your own work? So focus yourself. Take a thought for yourself. And I’m going to just
take a quick survey here. Are there GA’s with
their mics at the ready? No, they’re not. [laughs] Quickly, quickly. Thank you. Alright. I just want maybe
one or two people to say what issue or
concern and what emotion do you attach with
that issue or concern. Anyone? Afraid. John?>>PARTICIPANT: I would like to
know how to communicate with the millennials and,
whatever, generation Z– the young people in our midst. And I know that there is a chasm
between us, or seems to be. And so I am looking
for ways to– really what I want to do is
bring them back to the Church.>>DR. O’KEEFE: OK. And you have an emotion that
attached to that for yourself?>>PARTICIPANT:
Apprehension, anxiety. Yeah. That’s about it.>>DR. O’KEEFE: Alright. Thank you, John. Another?>>PARTICIPANT: My
name is Joe Cabatus. I’m a Vietnam veteran,
I’m a Veteran For Peace, and I think the
most difficult topic to talk about is war and peace. We’ve been at war for the
19th year in Afghanistan and nobody talks about it.>>DR. O’KEEFE: And so what
emotion does that raise in you?>>PARTICIPANT: Pardon me?>>DR. O’KEEFE: What
emotion does that raise?>>PARTICIPANT: Oh. Emotion– brings a lot
of anger in my life because I was in Vietnam
and there were people out there protesting the war.>>DR. O’KEEFE: OK.>>PARTICIPANT: And I find
that this Church, the Church says nothing about it. We spent $5.7 trillion
on a war that I fought. And in the last century,
that was the same war that is going on today. And the Church says
nothing about it. You’d start talking about
it and people ignore you and there’s just no– and Christ is supposed to
be the Prince of Peace.>>DR. O’KEEFE: Thank you.>>PARTICIPANT: Thank you.>>DR. O’KEEFE: So anger is
often an indicator of injustice and it can be a
very useful emotion. It can be one that
turns people off, but it also can be one when
channeled in effective ways, can promote action
on part of the issue where the injustice
is happening. So let’s see how we
might think about that. One last one.>>PARTICIPANT: I’m a
local parish pastor, also a Weston Jesuit grad. And the political landscape
in the upcoming election– I can’t even zero
in on the topic, but I’m still
learning my community, and there’s residual
anxiety about people having left because they
felt that it wasn’t a safe place for them to be
anymore as more conservative. I know I’m not alone in this,
and so I feel just frozen with all of the above. I’m thinking of how we’re going
to walk through the next year together.>>DR. O’KEEFE: Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. So there’s more here. I know it. I know. That’s why you came. OK. Alright. So yeah, we are in
a time of division. No question. No question. This is just images
from the last few weeks, couple of years. Really important things
that are ongoing. You cannot listen to the news
today without it being one story after another of
some division going on. And most of them, many of
them moved to violence, or you fear at the
edge of violence. So what do you do with that? It’s a reality
that says we’ve got to work some way through this
because especially if you have a sense of it’s getting worse. And I’d suggest in
other parts of the world it’s already worse. But we may worry for
ourselves here saying, well, when will that kind of violence
show up on the doorsteps here in Chestnut Hill, or
wherever it is you are. Now, one of the interesting
things to pay attention to, and I think for me, this is
really, really important. Division sells. Division sells. There are very strong interests
that wish us to be divided, and we’re constantly surrounded
with cultural messages about division. So I have up here images from
blockbuster movies or series that everybody loves, they’re
great production value, but the common storyline
of us against them, it will only be resolved
momentarily by battle. It’s an ancient myth of
redemption through violence. It’s an ancient myth of
redemption through violence. And it’s one that we’re hearing
more and more and more and more and more today. And I want you to pay
attention to that. What are the interests
behind a proliferation of cultural messages that
make extraordinary violence acceptable? The reason I raise
it isn’t because this is a talk about that,
but it’s exactly why the work that you’re
trying to do is more difficult. There’s a lot of cultural forces
that push us to polar extremes. I’d suggest to you that a lot
of the attraction of movies like this is that they play
on very good human qualities. One is care for those
who are close to you, allegiance to those in your
ambit, the destruction of evil. So those are all
natural human goods. Of course, we
never have any kind of sense of what the
rationale behind the evil is, we have no
sense of anything, it’s just there to
produce more evil. And so humans have
a desire to care for those who are
close to them, care for those who are known
to them, and fight off those who are a threat. That’s natural. It’s good. I think that’s why
humans are made. So when we say people
are being more divisive and pushed into polarities,
I’d suggest perhaps many people start in those polar
places, but those polarities become exacerbated. Right. It actually takes work to
get people beyond polarities. Rather than saying
we resort to them, I’d suggest in some
ways we start there. OK. So what do we do? What we’re trying
to do, or I’m trying to do, working out of a very
different cultural narrative that says peace is not found
through winning the next war, peace is found in gracious
giving of oneself to another. And it’s a very different
cultural message. The culture– because in
the US we consider ourselves a Christian country, in fact
this message is rather lost. Alright. But it can be at the center of
what it is we’re trying to do. We’re looking to
a further horizon. We’re looking to put
ourselves on the ground. Here’s my image here of ocean. We put ourselves out
there in the horizon of God’s love,
which then causes us to engage in the world in a
very different kind of way. Alright. Let’s see where
we’re going to go. I always like to give people a
warning about what lies ahead. Alright. Check one. We’ve already done emotions. OK. Moving right along. The next thing we’re
going to look at is our theological foundations. I’m going to then go into what
do I mean by “conversation.” Then talking about
agendas and settings, like the contexts
of conversation. Then we’re going to go into some
more practical pieces about how do you set the stage, and
move forward with a group, because I presume
that many of you are actually responsible
also for working with groups of people. OK. Somewhere in there
there’ll be a break. So don’t worry about that. OK. Another name that
came up for this talk was saving Thanksgiving. [laughter] Thank Kara for that one. We’ll see. We’ll see. No promises. OK. So what I want to
do next is look at our theological foundations. Why? Because the
theological guides us. This is not about being nice. You will be nice, I hope. But it’s really about something
more profound than niceness because the reality is
niceness will get pushed aside at some point. People will do things to one
another that are not nice. Not intentionally perhaps, but
yes, sometimes intentionally. But so it has to be
grounded in something else. We need a deeper purpose
for continuing on what’s going to be difficult terrain. And we need a theological hope
that guides our engagement. We have to have a
reason behind it for when things
get difficult, we want to say, no,
why do I keep going. So one of the things
that we use today was something that’s
a guide for me. In the prayer service,
we use this quote from Elizabeth Johnson’s
book, Consider Jesus. We prayed over it. “The church’s social
teaching is not based only on simple humanism,
but on a deep Christological motif: God has so
identified with our humanity that each of us as human
beings has been lifted to a dignity beyond compare. Thus whatever disfigures
or damages a human being is an insult to God’s own self. In a more poetic
way, Karl Rahner has envisioned that because of
the Word of God in our midst, it can now be seen that each
of us is a little word of God. The one Word of God
uttered in our midst reveals to us our own
beauty because we are each a little word and
together we will spell out something great.” So for me, that’s part of
my theological foundation is my understanding of the
other human person as revelatory somehow of God’s presence, God’s
love, God’s revelation to me. So it’s incumbent on me
to kind of discover it. So I’m going to ask you now
yourselves to think about this. What’s your
theological rationale for respectful engagement
with those different from yourself, such that you can
hold your own position to have some value, not simply
put it aside in deference to the other, but hold– hold some sense of what you
know to be true and right, become aware of and put
aside your own biases, in order to listen to the other? What’s your own theological
foundation for that? I’m going to ask you to
reflect quietly for yourself, and then when we’ve
given yourselves enough time at your
tables, share something with the person next to you. OK. Sounds like people
have something to say to one another. It’s good. By the end of a day like this,
I’m tired of my own voice, so I’m actually glad to
give you a chance to talk. So again, here’s
another question I’ve added here for
you to think about. Is there anything said
here at your table, in your conversation,
that you found surprising or helpful
or insightful? Alright. And again, we’ll take a couple
of responses from the floor. Wait for the mic. There you go.>>PARTICIPANT: it was
interesting that we were in exactly the same
place on the same topic, but had difficulty
expressing it to each other. Rather than being– defining it
as reducing anger or disarming, how do we convert
that into creating a peaceful place of
commonality, and that we leave with each other
on better and good terms rather than arguing?>>DR. O’KEEFE: Thank you. Yeah. And I just want to note that. The challenge of speaking
what you hold dear. Why is conversation difficult? Just cause it is. Let’s start with that. And then you add to it
a cultural atmosphere that pushes us into
polarities, and you add to that the amount of time it takes
to have good conversation, and the stresses on our time. Just factors. Just factors that have
nothing to do with the people at the center of it. OK. Another comment.>>PARTICPANT: Thank you. I think it was helpful
for me to be reminded of the importance of having
a theological rationale for engaging in dialogue
and conversation because of the reasons
you’ve just brought up that conversation is hard. Coming together around
things where we differ and where there’s
polarity is always hard. And that theological
rationale– without that, I go at it as a fight,
being right or wrong. I want to be right at all costs. And if I don’t remember, and
position myself theologically, and have that more
profound grounding for why I’m having this
conversation, I can easily get lost in those kinds of
difficulties and distractions and really destructiveness,
rather than pulling myself back and remembering what’s
the deeper place that I’m coming at this from.>>DR. O’KEEFE: Right. Thank you very much. Yeah. Well said. Let’s move forward, then. Yeah. So what do I mean
by conversation? We’re using the words
conversation, dialogue, kind of interchangeably at moments. But I want to
point to a theorist that I have found very
valuable on this, a professor at the University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign, Nicholas Burbules, whose work dialogue
and teaching, one of his older pieces, is really helpful
to me in paying attention to the diverse forms of speech. So he’s a professor
of education, and he’s interested in how do
we use dialogue and teaching. And the first thing
he does is indicate that in a postmodern world where
there is so much difference, a lot of people say– and you have heard it– we can’t talk, we’re just too
different, we can’t possibly bridge these chasms. Whatever the chasms may
be, whether the chasm is political views, theological
perspectives, age, wealth, race, ethnicity. All of those things are there. But he says, you
have to pay attention to all of those things
because they definitely change the landscape
on which people are able to engage
with one another in conversation or dialogue. But it doesn’t
make it impossible. It doesn’t predetermine
the outcomes. In fact, he says,
people are talking all the time who are different. Since no two people are
alike, even the fact that two people can converse
with each other, who are related to each
other, is indicative that the difference
itself is not the divider. But these differences
that we hold, whether it’s gender, race,
politics, history, ethnicity, socioeconomic– and I’ve
even added for our sitting ecclesial status, can
all make a difference in the stance of the
players as interlocutors. Alright. One of the interesting
things he does is he talks about distinctions
in the intent of dialogue. And one of them is an
intent about the content. So he uses this framework. So this is like the content
part of the morning, ladies and gentlemen. He uses this framework to say,
what’s the nature of dialogue? And he says there’s two– he suggests there’s two kinds
of stances towards the content, or the ideas, or the voices. And one of the
stances is inclusive. He says it’s granting,
what he calls “provisional probability,”
to the other’s perspective. Or another way of thinking about
it is it’s believing first. I’m going to believe
this person’s words as credible, helpful,
intelligent, well-meaning, so on and so forth. The other form is critical,
which means that– he’s saying this is concerned
with judging accurately. So it’s “objective accuracy”
of the other’s perspective. Here you’re looking for clarity. And so he says, the stance
is more suspicious at first. Not necessarily suspicious
in a malicious sort of way, but suspicious like, I need to
understand what you’re saying there, could you repeat that? Could you say that more clearly? What are you getting at? Alright. So inclusive, taking it all in. Or critical, being
more suspicious. The other way of thinking
about is intent of the outcome. What is the dialogue for? So he, again, makes
two forms here. One is convergent, the
other is divergent. So by convergence
he means– it’s you’re looking to get to
some outcome together, some consensus, right? And in that, he calls
it teleological. We need to get somewhere. So for organizing an event
like this, eventually we have to come up with a plan
for how we’re going to do it. That’s teleological. Your towards a particular goal. On the other hand, we can
also have a divergent outcome, or dialogue that’s
divergent, meaning you don’t have a particular goal in mind. You might be just looking
for better understanding on something. So he calls this
non-teleological. There’s no particular
goal, except it might be the more general
goal of understanding the other better. But it’s not designed
towards agreement. Whereas convergent is
designed toward some agreement on something, divergent is
not looking for agreement. So at your tables today, we’re
kind of looking for divergent. You don’t need to agree
with each other on what you come away with this day from. You’ve just come away
with something, I hope. So it’s a general goal
but not a particular goal. Alright. So why does this matter? He then indicates four
different kinds of speech that he’s going to
speak of as dialogue. The first is inquiry. Now, inquiry is suggestive
for problem-solving. How do we plan an
event like this, for example, or how do we
create a policy for health care, or how do we go to the moon? These are problem-solving
processes. So inquiry is intended
to investigate an issue, make sense of it, and
in some ways, what you want is everybody’s
voice at the table until the best
idea comes forward. So it’s inclusive. Everybody’s opinion is going
to may be helpful here. Let’s find out. Let’s gather it all together. But eventually you have to
come to an idea, a conclusion, and so it becomes convergent. Inclusive and convergent. Hoping to bring lots
of voices together, but towards a particular end. And he calls this– he characterizes this
as both believing– let’s hear everything–
and teleological– towards a goal. Another form that
he says is debate. This is dedicated to showing
contrasts between positions. It is both critical
and divergent. So it’s intended to show
clarity on an issue, a concern, an idea. But is not intended
towards agreement. And he says this
is characterized as both suspicious
and non-teleological. We don’t have to
get to an end here, don’t have to get into
a particular goal. We just want to get our
ideas out there and clarify. Alright. A third one is what
we’re doing right now. Instruction. Similar critical
elements of debate. It’s usually one-directional. So I’m talking to you. It’s intended to moving you to
take on a skill or information. It is both critical– there’s clarity,
hopefully– and convergent. I hope at the end you
understand these four concepts. So it’s helping the learner
come to grasp an idea, grasp a skill, an understanding
of something together. So it is both suspicious
and teleological. There will not be a quiz later,
but you get the idea, right? So instruction. The fourth one–
this one I think is the one least used in common
parlance– is conversation. This is dedicated to
mutual understanding. It is inclusive, meaning you’re
looking for all the information to come in, all the stories,
just for better understanding, because you don’t know
what’s going to be important. But it remains divergent. We’re not looking
for agreement, we’re not looking for you
to be like me, right? So it’s non-teleological. Believing, non-teleological. This form, I think, is
one of the most valuable and the hardest to do,
because as you can even appreciate from this
image, a lot of it’s done in more informal settings. Two friends, we expect,
sitting on a park bench sharing a story. The value of conversation is
that it increases understanding of the other. It can increase my
clarity about myself. As I hear your questions
to me I realize, oh, I hadn’t thought of
that question before. Or as I hear your
story, it makes me think, wow, that was an
experience I’ve never had. Hmm, I realize now that
a different experience shapes my understanding. It allows for those differences
to be contextualized– where did this come from? What’s your history? Why is this important to you? Do you know anybody close to
you that this is a concern for? And in all of that, it
does challenge the validity of my own stance, simply because
hearing more of the other story may make me rethink where
I am, made me rethink my presuppositions, make
me recognize that I even have presuppositions. So in a sense, it
can be kind of risky. But one of the wonderful
things about it is it allows for
thinking in the moment. A good conversation
is a live event. We all have people
in our lives who you hear them and they’re
telling the same story over and over and over and over
again to multiple people, right? And I’d suggest that’s never
them having a conversation. In fact, that’s a little
bit more of instruction. A conversation, if it’s
a real conversation, is dependent on the interlocutor
to change the story. Right? So my indication of
someone who has been heard is that their story changes. If the story remains the
same over and over again, it indicates to me they’ve never
felt like they’ve been heard. Because if they’ve been heard,
the dynamic of the story would somehow get interrupted,
and the story would change. So conversation also allows
for new options to arise. In the engagement
with the other, we hear different things,
we think different things. The questions that others
offer us about our own story cause us to think answers
that we hadn’t thought before. So Burbules names these
four forms of dialogue. And I’d say they’re all
essential for working on difficult issues. We need to do inquiry. We need to figure out
how to problem-solve. So policy-making is
a lot of inquiry. How are we going to
come to something? And then clarity on
options requires debate. Is this a better option
than that a better option? Sometimes you need to bring
in an expert on the subject. We need some instruction. Would this work? Tell us more. We need some background. But one of the pieces
that’s often missing is basic conversation. How is this going to
impact the lives of people? Let’s go find out
what they think. So sometimes communities
do that with focus groups, and that sort of thing. But more often than
not, people feel like they haven’t
been heard, that they didn’t get a chance at the
table, whatever that table may be. So if the conversation hasn’t
been done that brings forward new understandings of people’s
real lived experience, then the other
pieces fail to work. They fail to work well. They fail to work
for the people, for whomever got excluded
from the discussion. Alright. Again, let’s pause for a moment
and just think for yourselves. What do you find helpful in
identifying those distinctions? I’m presuming something. What do you find helpful in
identifying the distinctions among these four
different dialogue forms? And what possibilities do they
create in your imagination? So we’ve paid attention
to the emotions that arise in us in
conversation, especially around difficult things. We’ve paid some attention to
our theological grounding, or why would we bother even
doing this sort of thing. We’ve thought a little bit about
the different forms of speech and how different forms
get lost potentially. So what I want to
move to now is talking about settings and agendas. Nicholas Burbules
writes, “The conditions under which speech
encounters take place foster or inhibit
the development of the communicative virtues.” We’ll talk a little bit
about what those virtues are. But the conditions under which
speech encounters take place foster or inhibit. And he says in another place,
“A sensitivity to context and the effects
of speech help us to judge prudently when and
how communicative virtues are appropriate.” So the important thing
here is, choose your time and your place well. We have different forms of
speech to be mindful of. Which ones get used,
when do we use them. And I’d suggest, as we were
saying over here, we tend to– Meghan was saying we tend to
shift to debate too quickly. And I might ask, why
is that the case? For most of our public
speech forms now– I mean, we’re long past the
time for most communities of town meetings, and
that sort of thing. But most of our public speech
forms comes through the media. So trusted news sources
have told us over the years. But even the ones I’m
putting up here now, these are all your
kind of Sunday morning talking head shows. You recognize them? And these are often– they often look
like a conversation. Everyone is sitting
around a table, or they’re sitting in
comfortable chairs. So it has the look
of a conversation, but it’s not a conversation. There people have talking points
that they’re coming in with, and you never see
them say, well, thank you for that
insight, you’ve really made me think
differently about what I came in to talk about. You never, ever
hear that, right? OK. You realize that they’ve
come in to clarify positions, to say them over and over again,
the same thing in slightly different words. But over the years,
even what we consider as trusted sources of
balanced perspectives have increasingly
become less balanced and understood not as trusted
sources of information, which would be important
in our instruction phase of the
conversation or dialogue. Instead, our sources are clearly
more biased than they had ever been historically. And there’s reasons behind that. [laughter] What that does is that it
pushes people to the polarities. It pushes people
to the polarities. I want to go back
to the earlier slide where I said conflict sells. Many of the news
organizations actually have very few journalists
collecting, investigating news. Increasingly, our
news organizations have personalities
sitting at desks talking about opinion pieces. So the greater investment,
if it’s not deep investment at all, is in those
particular personalities. So pay attention
to these things. Fewer and fewer
dollars in our country are going towards
actually discovering news. There are fewer local newspapers
across the country, the news organizations that do exist
have had to make cuts over time because collecting news,
collecting information, is a very expensive project,
but for the last few decades it’s been proposed as
a for-profit industry, and increasingly, an
entertainment industry. That their intent is to
bring eyes to their screens, so as to bring your eyes
to advertisers’ messaging. So unfortunately, our
news organizations, or what we’ve known as
our news organizations, are increasingly less
news organizations. And that’s a tremendous
tragedy because first of all, it does a disservice
to us, and secondly, it means that we’re pushed in a
narrative that many of them put us increasingly
at polarities. Thinking in terms of
Burbules’ framework, increasingly public speech
is, at best, framed as debate. At best. And it’s not a very good
debate because there’s never equal players present. It’s suspicious, critical,
and non-teleological. But it’s frequently
mean-spirited and ad hominem, meaning it’s
attacking the person. Pay attention to that. The sources that you
watch on either side of the spectrum, the
tendency to do that. And in some ways, it’s their
own dog chasing its tail. If one is doing
it, the other does it to get viewers,
listeners, advertisers. But if you think about it, and
public speech is intended– I should hope– to be in
service to the public. And in such, should
be more in the nature of inquiry or instruction. But inquiry, certainly
believing and teleological. How do we solve the
problems of our times? Let’s all work at this
and see where we go. Alright? But we’re depending on sources
to do this work for us, and those sources have in many
instances given up that agenda altogether. And it’s important for us
to pay attention to that, and to train our
diets accordingly. Contexts also have changed. So I gave you broadcast
media, but now we have new media sources, where
anybody can put up anything. So we’re assaulted by– we choose in some ways
to be assaulted by them, but we are assaulted by things
like our mail, which I get way too much, and so do you, right? I expect. Facebook, Twitter,
Whatsapp, Instagram. All sorts of social
media platforms become this space where
people are spending their time and making connections
with one another. And as I’ve argued
in other places, like in a book that’s at the
back of the room for sale– [laughter] That these places can
be tremendous resources for connecting
with other people, but they’re terrible places
for developing relationships with other people. And that distinction needs to
be understood in order for them to be most useful. But in the meantime, they
can be pretty dangerous. Sherry Turkle, who’s been
doing a lot of research over her career on
people’s use of technology, her two more recent books. One, Alone Together:
Why We Expect More from Technology and
Less from Each Other, she put out in 2011. And then, more recently,
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a
Digital Age, in 2016. Sherry Turkle talks in one
about how the digital space has changed the way we
talk with each other, or more importantly,
how we avoid talking with each other
face to face, and prefer mediated technologies
to do that work for us. In Reclaiming Conversation,
she makes the argument that conversation
is a learned skill. And if you’re not doing
it, you don’t learn it. I’d agree with her on
that wholeheartedly. And we have to actually
think more constructively about how do we reclaim
conversational spaces? Two excellent books. But another one, Angela
Gorrell, a young scholar. Her recent publication,
just this year, Always On: Practicing Faith in a
New Media Landscape. She talks about how the media
itself shapes what we see, and what we hear,
and how we engage. Speaking particularly
of applications, and how they ask you
for certain things, and don’t ask you for others. And how their algorithms work so
that you hear more of the same like you. And that’s a decision
that they make. She writes, “New media is often
designed to get your attention and hold your attention. When the ultimate
aim is making money and there is little regard
for what it takes to do so, new media developers not only
spread malformed convictions, values, and practices
but also create new media that
contribute additionally to malformed convictions,
values, and practices to humans’ vision
of the good life.” We know these things. We hear these things. Even when you have Zuckerberg
in front of a Senate committee, and he’s asking, can we expand
Facebook to do even more? And they’re asked why? And bottom line is
always, well, cause I want to make more money. And when asked what
kinds of safeguards. He’s like, oh, I
can’t handle that. That’s beyond our control. That’s just fiction. Fiction. But if their interest
is making more money, then, they’re going
to design, and they do the technology to
do exactly what it is that they want to do. So it’s important for
us to also pay attention to the media settings,
shape how we engage, and they shape the content
of our dialogical spaces. They limit it in very
particular kinds of ways. And those ways are
to ends that are not beneficial to the users. So let’s think for a
moment about yourselves. This isn’t to
demonize those things. It’s just to say– they can be useful tools. We have to be very savvy
about how we use them, because they’re not– they’re not made
for our benefit. OK. So I ask you, here recall– when you recall an impossible
conversation of the past– again here’s a memory game– when you recall an impossible
conversation in the past, what do you recall
about the setting? As you look back, what were
your expectations for yourself in that conversation? And what were your
expectations of the other? Alternately, so as to not
leave you in that glum place. When you recall a
good conversation, what do you remember
about that setting? And I’m going to ask, just
for a couple of voices for a brief response
to either one of those, any one of those questions. What you recall
about the setting, or what you would call about
your expectations for yourself, or for the other. Especially, if it was
something that surprised you as you thought about it.>>PARTICIPANT: So
I was just thinking about the second question,
about the expectations. The conversation that I had
was with a fellow classmate. But thinking about what
I expected from myself, and sort of also
thinking about the other, but sort of the expectation
I set for myself was trying to listen. But in reality, I
think I was just trying to prove a point to them. Or to, I think, in a
way, to try to listen to understand, but really
had them understand myself. Rather than really, truly
listen to what they were saying.>>DR. O’KEEFE: Thank you. Yeah. Good recognition. I think many of us are
doing that most of the time. I say that myself,
I have to actually– when I’m in conversation–
people say to myself, Theresa, pay attention to what
they’re actually saying. Don’t just look, don’t just look
like you’re paying attention. Actually pay attention. How many times a day do
I say that to myself? Well, probably not often enough. But anyway, someone else?>>PARTICIPANT:
Something that came to mind to me was
when I was visiting a husband of a friend who
had had a serious accident. And their daughter– I felt sort of
ambushed by a question that she raised about
something in the Church. I was a director of religious
education at the time. And I just felt so unprepared,
and like it was inappropriate. Here I am, visiting her
father, but she just wanted to nail me with a
question about the Church. And she was questioning,
and had doubts. And when I think of
a good conversation, it’s when you make time
to be with the person. You have time, you’re not
distracted with other things. But just that feeling
of being ambushed. And maybe, I didn’t
handle it the best way. I could have if we had made,
you know, a set time to talk. So that was just something
that came to my mind.>>DR. O’KEEFE: Excellent. And that often
happens, especially, people who do church work. Could be in the grocery
store by the yogurt. Suddenly, you’re
answering some question. For me, the first
time that happened I was home from break in college,
visiting a high school friend. And her grandmother was
there, and she asked, what were you studying? And I said, religious studies. And suddenly, I had to
answer for the Inquisition. My friend still
apologizes for that. I am so sorry. But that’s the thing is that
we get put in places that we feel unprepared. So we’ll talk a bit about what
do we do in that instance. OK. Any other thoughts? One more over here.>>PARTICIPANT: So maybe
listening to these responders– these sharings– it tells me, as you
say, the setting. Often when these
meetings happen, it’s always from a one
sided person or whatever, and you’re in their space. Right? You’re not in a neutral space. And so, obviously, the
dynamics of that encounter could be altered by being
in a different space. Do you know what
I’m trying to say?>>DR. O’KEEFE: Yes.>>PARTICIPANT: And in
a good conversation, I think about meeting
with a friend, just for a conversation,
and openness, and like going to a
bridge, or being in a park. Or something like– it just
lends to that open dialogue. As opposed to feeling like
you’re on somebody else’s turf. And you have to fight for your
ground while that, you know, whatever. Do you know what
I’m trying to say?>>DR. O’KEEFE: Yes, I do. The context matters. So you’re indicating
neutral spaces, the value of a neutral space,
that’s not always an option. But sometimes, you’re the host. Sometimes you’re the guest,
that can change the dynamic. Sometimes, you may be living
in the same household. You’re like, well,
where do you go then? OK. But, yeah. But space isn’t just
a physical thing– it is a physical thing–
but it’s not just the physical thing. Time is another element. Yeah. There’s one more person
who’s got her hand up. She’s eager to say something.>>PARTICIPANT: Yes. So this is with somebody I live
with, and have for 35 years.>>DR. O’KEEFE:
There are no names.>>PARTICIPANT: No names.>>DR. O’KEEFE:
But as we get in– and I’m probing, and wanting
to love better and understand. And sometimes, he
just can’t go there. And I finally realized just
how much pain sometimes is attached to what
I’m trying to get at. Even a decision about
traveling somewhere, and I realize there’s trauma
attached to that place. And then, I think also, a
lack of vocabulary sometimes, really– I’m really realizing–
comes into play in these kind of conversations. Thanks to 12 years of
marriage counseling, we’re making good progress. But I’m learning to be
patient, whereas before, it was why can’t you
just tell me this? You know? And sometimes, at the end of
the conversation– it’ll come. And there’s fruit sometimes,
at the end of this. He realizes it,
it surprises him. So yeah, thanks.>>DR. O’KEEFE: I like how you
say that it surprises him, because again, the live
conversation should eventually be surprising to us, that
it’s non-teleological, we don’t know where
it’s going to end up. So these are important
things to pay attention to. Another thing that
she’s raised here is the need to be
able to articulate. And the things that are
deepest in our heart can be what drives us the most,
but it’s also the very hardest thing to talk about. So what kind of prompting, what
kind of care, what kind of time is needed in order for
people to say the thing that is most important. How do you assist them? Or how do you allow them
the space and the time? So when I say, what
expectations for yourself, and what expectations
of the other, sometimes, our
expectations of the other, we don’t realize
that are very high. Alright. And one of the really
central expectations is that we have an expectation
that the other will come to see things as we do. Feel things as we
feel, without you ever telling them what’s
important to you and why. Alright. Now, I think that’s a
natural human emotion, that we presume that people
see the world as we see it. And we’re quite surprised
that they’d see it otherwise. And that’s why conversation’s
so essential, so valuable, so important to the process. And it takes the time and
care that it needs to take. Alright. So we are at 11:30. We’ve been at this
for a little while. Let’s take a break. I’m going to say 10. And I know you’re
going to take 15. So let’s say 10, and you’ll– OK. So let’s take a break, and we’ll
come back, and do some more. Not bad. That was 12 minutes. Good for you. Good for you. Alright. So much to do. Now, that we’ve figured
out the problem, what do you do for a solution? There’s a lot of different
skills about conversation that can be used. And happily, there
are more and more resources and organizations
that are putting out materials, guides, helpful resources. So I don’t feel I need to say
all that needs to be said. And I couldn’t
possibly say all that needs to be said on this topic. But I want to think about
just some important elements of setting– what I’m calling
setting the stage– for conversation. And I hope in this part, that
you take away both some themes, and then, maybe some
practical ideas. So it’s in multiple steps. Step one. Conversation, as is understood
here, is so much work, it should be something
that matters to you. Hans-Georg Gadamer, a German
philosopher of the 20th century wrote– when he talks about
conversation, it says, “Something is placed
in the center… which the partners in
dialogue both share and concerning which,
they can exchange ideas with one another.” So it’s not about
any frivolous topic that we bother having
a conversation. It’s about more important
things that you engage with. But sometimes, it
takes some conversation to come to some sense
that oh, actually, we hold this thing in
common as important. We just think of it very,
very, very differently. And that may be the
case, especially, in congregational
life, where you’ve got diverse communities
of people in front of you or in schools. So you’re saying, alright,
we have shared interest. The fate of the world. Maybe we ought to
talk about this. Alright. Now, however, the
first thing that I would say about these issues,
and that how they matter, is I’m going to suggest
that you avoid the binary. Beware, things are presented
to us in black and white. And it’s normal
for humans to think in more black and white terms. Concretes are easier for us. And we always cling to them
as helpful, and resources. In fact, I’m giving you
concrete instructions by giving you a step
one, a step two. The concretes are valuable. But the problem is that
when we work in binaries, we stay there, they
become unproductive. So while initially attractive,
like our friend Pep Le Pew, eventually, they stink. Right? Why? Because first of all, binaries
limit the imagination. They give us only two choices. It’s either this or it’s that. Are you for illegal immigration
or are you for whatever? You know? So notice, and I want you to
notice that the dialogue is set up culturally,
and I’d suggest by sources that have reason
to do this for their own self interest, to push us
to binary choices. So we have important
issues to discuss, but the binary choices
that are out there limit the way you
think about it, and it boxes us
into what ultimately are unworkable options. Do you want health care
for all or health care for all who want it? Well, first of all, it will
never be one or the other. The issue’s far too
complex, and a lot of people have to agree on it
for to get anywhere. So in some ways, it
doesn’t matter particularly what a political candidate says
in the moment of a campaign. It’s not like they
get their say. But in our imagination, we
get limited in our thinking because of that constant choice,
it’s either this, or it’s that. So I’m saying to you, beware. Beware the binary choices. Be aware of them,
and be cautious. The further point is
that binary choices also encourage demonization, because
the polar opposites then push us to think that
we’re on the right side, and that whoever else
is on the wrong side. And this becomes
extraordinarily divisive. This is why we have violence. Because the opposite becomes
demonized in our imagination. And therefore, we have
all rights and privileges to do away with the demon. So it’s very important for
us to say, wait a minute. I’m being pulled into that. I’m being pulled into that. It’s really attractive. Boy I want to fight,
I’m up for a fight, and you have to say to
yourself, wait a minute. That’s ultimately unproductive. Ultimately unproductive. The challenge in a divisive
society particularly, the ones that we’re living in– not only the United States, but
more increasingly, globally– is that it becomes
an issue– the way the polarization is done–
is almost everything becomes an issue
of moral import. And I would say to you,
that a lot of the issues are of moral import. The state of the economies,
the state of trade, the state of immigration,
the state of the environment. Just about every issue
that we’re talking about is, in fact, an issue
of moral import. But the polarity in them
puts the moral import in the wrong direction. It puts the moral
import on fighting one another, and
demonizing one another, and not on solving any issues. But going towards that
natural human tendency of wishing to preserve
oneself, wishing to preserve those
who are close to me. And very often, especially,
in a new media landscape, those people who
think like I do. And the reality is, those people
who I presume think like I do. That we’re alike, and
the others are different. Alright. Underneath all of this fear
of dialogue with the other is a fear of truth
and authority. Humans, by their
nature, attend to truth by asking for valid
authorities in their lives, whether it’s church,
whether it’s government, whether it’s what. And so, part of
our challenge here is to recognize that
we, too, are challenged in that, that our own
fear around an issue, our own anxiety
around an issue, may be because we are going
to be upset in what it is we think is right. So from a theological
perspective, I frequently say to myself– and I often say out loud– God is somehow even
bigger than all of this. If God is God,
then God is bigger. I believe in a God
who created all things visible and invisible,
even this fight, does not get us
outside of God’s care. So with that in mind, can I
enter into this conversation with somebody in a way
that says maybe, together, we’ll discover something
more true, more deep. That we will not– in our
efforts– exhaust the truth, and neither of us have– just because of our being human,
have a unique, not a unique– but we see all of
the truth whole. That’s simply impossible. So what I’m going
to recommend here, are things that help us
unpack the complexity. Binary choices, by their
nature, erase complexity. They push us to polar opposites. Are you with us or against us? Are you one of
them or one of us? Are you doing this
or doing that? Are you red, are you blue? So what you want to do is
actually unpack the complexity, but not in a way that accuses
the other person of being simplistic. Your problem is you’re only
seeing this in a binary way. What I’m going to do for
you, is save you from that. No. Let’s suggest that that’s
the wrong foot start off on. But you want to ask questions. If you’re really going
to talk about this topic, you want to ask
questions that open it up immediately,
beyond the binary, behind the this and the that. OK? So you’re going to
ask questions that invite people to break it open
somehow with their own story. For example, it might
be asking them literally about their own story. So this issue seems really
important to you, immigration. Tell me how it affects
you personally. Where do you encounter this
in your day to day life? Or if they say,
well, it doesn’t, it affects the state of the nation. Yes, but can you think
of how it actually impacts your functioning, and
those things that benefit you? So sometimes, what that does
is it allows you to find ways that the topic that
they’re talking about, is not really the topic
that concerns them. But we live in a
world that says, let’s lump everything
into barrels. And so, this might be– just connecting with the
original story of the person, may– I’m not giving any promises
here, there are no promises– it may give you a
different way in. But you want to break
down that complexity. Or to ask them, so this is
an important issue for you, how do you see it? And how did you come
to that understanding? Another piece of this is we
often talk about the actions that people are going to take. They’re going to vote
for this or they’re going to vote for that. They’re going to
talk about this, or they’re going
to talk about that. And those practices
of talking, or voting, or genuflecting
before communion– or whatever the heck it is– those actions that
people take, our actions are always loaded with meaning. Well, our mistake is to presume
that we know the meaning that the person intends. Because we’re reading that
action from our perspective. And we know what
it intends for us, but we don’t know what
it intends for the other, I will argue. So you want to ask
about what’s behind it. And presume for the good. Why do you do that? There must be something in
that, that you find helpful. There must be in it
that you find important. Why is that important to you? Tell me more about that. Now, you’re going to move
people– eventually– because very often,
since people are not accustomed to having
conversations, you actually have to prompt a lot, and
say, tell me more about that. And you’ll get stories, and
you have to really listen. Don’t be listening,
like alright, I’m going to get my point in. But you really have to listen. You have to listen, and
attend to that story. And I’ll tell you, this
takes a lot of practice to do this well. So I’ve put up some
suggestions there. What’s the value that inspires
you around this issue? So you really feel
strongly about it. Why do you care? And you can’t say,
why do you care? Like what’s that all about? You have to actually say
it in a way that invites people’s honest response. Because you may
not be aware of it, but you are asking
people to take a risk, to trust you with something
that they have to say. And I’d suggest that you
sympathize with what you can. It’s like, you know what? That, actually, that’s
an important value. I really appreciate that
value, but that’s not one that I would have thought
of relative to this issue. Or you might say, that
is an important value tell me more about why
that particular value is important to you. Again, you’ll get more. What you want is the complexity. You want to hear the
story, because that’s going to send you
somewhere different. And your interlocutor,
you’re going to go in different directions. But when you sympathize
with what is held in common, it increases the
capacity for trust. Now, don’t be disingenuous,
but I would say, sometimes it’s a stretch to
say, well, yeah, I can see that. But if it’s not
something you hold dear, you don’t have to say to
them, I think that’s stupid. I’m telling you, these
things are unhelpful, but these are the
things people say. And then, they wonder
why no one will talk to them intelligently. OK. Let’s– alright. So you want to be on the lookout
for complexity in their story so that you break the
issue open further. And eventually, you’re going to
find somewhere you can actually go. But if you just start
with the polarities that are given by sources
outside ourselves, that locks you into
two unworkable choices. Step number two. Haven’t gotten
very far, have we? OK. Become an “honest broker.” This honest broker is a term– years ago, I was so happy to
hear this addressed to me. It was my godson, my
nephew, who said to me– we would meet for lunch
every once in awhile, just have lunch–
he was the oldest grandchild in our family,
and he was my godson. And we would, just
the two of us, go out and have a chat
about this or that. And he’s always fascinated with
the news, and what’s going on. And he said to me years ago, he
said, you’re an honest broker. By that, I understood him to
mean that I would take time to listen to both
sides of an issue, or multiple sides of an issue. I wasn’t quick to judge. You could tell me
something and I wasn’t going to hold it against
you, that sort of stuff. So I’d recommend
that you actually become an honest broker. But your intention– there’s
a caveat here– your intention to be one, doesn’t
mean you are one. Because being an honest broker
is somebody else’s assessment of you. Just because I think I’m
trustworthy, doesn’t mean, in fact, somebody
finds me trustworthy. So you actually have to actively
work at being trustworthy. Many of you know this,
because I look around, and I see many trustworthy
people here that I know. OK. Because for your interlocutor,
their perception of you functions as reality. And this is a mistake
that we too often make, what I intend for myself is
what you should understand. And is as you should receive it. You’re like, no. Now, can you imagine being boxed
into that, that you actually have to take life on
somebody else’s intentions? It’s not possible. Now, once you learn
their intentions, you might say oh,
I can see that. But what, in fact, you did was
step all over me, holy smokes. Please don’t do that again. I will have a hard time
not reacting the same way. OK? So we have to learn
how to both be givers and we have to be more
attentive, constantly, to how other people
receive what it is we give. And not assume that what
I gave for one person is going to work equally well
for what I do for another. Hans-Georg Gadamer,
the philosopher I mentioned a few moments ago. He argued in his book,
Truth and Method. First of all, just
understanding the title, he says that there isn’t a
method for discovering truth. There’s not a recipe to follow. It’s a discovery. A discovery found in process. But what he said in this
book, is that humans always start from misunderstanding. We, as humans, are
born meaning makers. We do it all the time. We’re making sense
out of everything. You’re trying to make
sense out of this slide. You’re trying to make sense out
of whatever, what I’m saying. We’re constantly making meaning. And our learning anything
new is based on whatever it is we knew before. From utero, onwards. So humans always start
from misunderstanding to understanding,
and we’re never done. He says it’s human
to prejudge, not because we’re bad people,
or immoral, or thoughtless, but because we
haven’t learned yet. We always come
into any encounter with presumptions about life. And we’re constantly
having those upset. Sometimes it’s dramatic,
and sometimes it’s minor. You realize, oh, the
paper towel dispensers on this side of the room,
not that side of the room. Whatever. It can be as mundane as
that, or more profound. But we’re constantly moving
from misunderstanding to understanding. And if we fight that, saying I
should already know everything, we undermine our ability
to engage constructively with anyone. So understanding is
it– requires openness to a dialogical
process, he argues. And the kind of openness he
talks about is not simply open mindedness, by which
he might suggest, that in open mindedness–
as he’s understanding it– is that we have ideas
in our head already, and I’m going to fit you into
the brackets I’ve already got. Alright. What he’s saying is openness
to difference, meaning as I engage with you, and– I hope at this
point in your life, you’ve all experienced this
for yourself one time– I meet somebody
for the first time. I really get to
know their story, and I begin to
realize, wow, there is so much more behind that
person that remains mystery. That’s the kind of openness
he’s talking about. That the other
remains, ultimately, mystery to us, just as we
remain ultimately mystery to ourselves. That kind of openness. So that ability, as he writes,
“The openness to the other involves recognizing
that I myself must accept some things that are
against me, even though no one forces me to do so.” But it’s a stance that you take,
this I’m going to hear a story, I’m going to learn
from this person, I’m going to engage
with this person. And in parts that’s
what I learned, are going to be hard
for me to take in, but I’m going to do it. Nicholas Burbules, in the
book I referenced before, Dialogue and Teaching. He talks about the
need to develop what he calls “communicative virtues.” Alright. This is not an exhaustive list. This is just a list. “They include such qualities
as tolerance, patience, openness to give and
receive criticism, the inclination to admit
that one may be mistaken, the desire to reinterpret or
translate one’s own concerns in a way that make them
comprehensible to others, the self-imposition of restraint
in order that the other may have a turn to speak, and– often neglected as a key
element in dialogue– the willingness and ability
to listen thoroughly and attentively.” How many of us are good
at that all the time? No one. Let the record show,
no hands are raised. Yeah. Exactly. It’s hard. It’s hard. And I like how he even
says that last one, it’s often neglected as a
key element in dialogue, listening thoroughly
and attentively. We talk about it all the
time, but, in fact, we do it very little. We listen but we’re
not– we’re listening and having thoughts of our own. We’re listening oh,
and getting distracted. We’re listening we’re looking
at our phone, whatever. It’s like, no, to listen is
a moment to moment activity. And so, you have
to queue yourself in on a very regular
basis if you’re doing it. So I’m recommending that we be
mindful of our own reactions as we’re listening. What emotions come up
in me, and why those? What am I afraid of? Very often, I’d kind of– the key emotions are either
fear, or anxiety, or anger. You may say, why? What’s that about, in me? Now, to do that in the
moment takes practice. Eventually, people
can get there. Sometimes you just say,
I just got to go away. But paying attention
to one’s own emotions, one’s own language, one’s
own behavior in the moment. Another is to pay
attention to your impact. Noticing how what you’re
saying is being received, changes in body language,
change in the atmosphere, changes in facial expressions,
changes and somebody storms out the door. You might say, that
didn’t go well. Or maybe they had a
bus to catch, whatever. Maybe it’s not about me. Remember, intention
does not equal impact. What we intend, may in
fact, not be what happens. So being able to
say, wait a minute, I noticed that you
flinched when I said that. I’m sorry if I– did I
say something disturbing? I don’t even know if I
said something disturbing. Did I say something disturbing? And then, not to say,
well, my intention was that you should feel
good about what I said. It is simply to say, I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intention, tell
me how I can not do that again. Tell me how I
could do otherwise. Word of advice, practice,
practice, practice. And you’re still
going to screw up. I’ve had occasions,
where people say, well, you’re supposed to
be an expert on dialogue and conversation. How come you’re so
bad at it right now? Because I get to be a
jerk too, now and again. Alright? We get we get better at
it the more we do it, and when we’re being a
jerk, we’re more aware. Hopefully, like yes,
OK, let me pull it back. Alright. So I encourage you, even
if you become expert, there are moments you’re
going to screw up royally. OK. Step three. Choose a time and a place. Going back to the quote
from Nicholas Burbules, “The conditions under which
speech encounters take place foster or
inhibit the development of communicative virtues.” So you may have all of these
great skills in another moment. And then, you get into this
setting, and they fall away. And there’s reasons for that. There’s history, there’s
political, there’s time, there’s whatever. So, “A sensitivity to context
and the effects of speech helps us to judge prudently when
and how communicative virtues are appropriate.” Thanksgiving, maybe? Maybe not Thanksgiving. I don’t know their
family’s dynamics, you know them better than I do. If it’s the only time
of year your people who are close to you have an
intelligent conversation, well take advantage of that. Right? But if you don’t have
a history of having intelligent conversation
here, or you just rancorous, or full of emotion,
and stress, I recommend that you keep
away from dangerous topics. Choose your time and your place. Pay attention to atmosphere. Pay attention to your
own emotional state. It was raised earlier, pay
attention if you’re ready. But you may also pay attention
whether the other person is ready. And here’s a bit of
advice, you don’t have to rise to every occasion. Just because somebody puts
the bait out in front of you, doesn’t mean you
have to bite it. And this is important. This is important not
only for yourself, but it’s important
for the other person. One of the things I
learned years ago was I really don’t like debate
for the sake of debate, as a form of entertainment. I used to have a neighbor, who
then married into the family. And so, he was around regularly. And you have– he
would, no surprise, he went to study law because
he was a great litigator. He loved arguing. He loved arguing on stuff. And I finally learned to say to
him, you enjoy this, don’t you? And he said, yeah, I do. And I was like this topic is too
important to me to play around. If you’re serious about
it, we can talk about it. And more often than not, that
kind of response to somebody– has actually either caused them
to back off like, oh, no, no, no. I was just like trying to make– I was just going
to make smalltalk. Try something else. Or they’ll say no,
actually, I’m sorry. This is a topic that’s
really important to me. Well, then, let’s find
another time and place to talk about it, because
this it’s an important topic. But let’s find the
time and the place. So learn for yourself
how not to take the bait. Learn for yourself when you
are being forced into a debate style– which was mentioned
already a couple of times– I’ve heard it, that it’s
a style we naturally fall into, or get setup into. You’re going to have to
notice that for yourself, and learn, how do I turn this
into something different? How do I not take
the bait as offered? So what you want to do–
as I was just suggesting– is assess mutual
interest on the agenda. It has to matter for both of
you if you’re actually going to engage in it productively. Is this something
you’re concerned about? Yeah? Why? And if they’re saying, no, I’m
just trying to get you angry. Well, congratulations. Pass the potatoes. You know, whatever? It has to matter to both people
to make it worth your while. So we have to be wise
within yourself to notice, is this good for me? Is this good for another? And if the other
person is serious, then, you want to follow up at
a time that is more appropriate. Well, let’s talk about
this, if that time isn’t. Right? Let’s talk about this some time. When are you free? When can we do this? This is really interesting. Maybe you should go to a
lecture together on this topic, and maybe see what
it inspires in us for our mutual engagement. So again, both of these bring us
back to step one and step two, it has to matter. And you want to be an
honest broker in that. You want to be someone who’s
a reliable interlocutor. That has thoughts of your own,
but is respectful, and open, and listening to the other. OK. So let’s take a couple
of moments for you to think for yourselves. What are some one on one
settings and situations that would benefit from
better conversation? And what strategies or tactics
do you have for those settings? What would you advise? So I ask you to think for
a moment for yourself, and then, I’ll have you turn to
your immediate friends again, and we’ll just take a
couple of moments to share. Too many people have a
chance to share a thought, but the person who thinks
they’ve got something valuable, you can share it
with the others. So what strategies or tactics
do you have for those settings? What would you advise? Now, I’m going to focus on
working with the groups, because many of
you are in settings where you’re responsible for
groups of people talking. And in this, again, beware
of the binary choices. And think about that as
you’re setting things up. You’re going to
have people coming into whatever setting
you’re creating, expecting binary choices. So if you think about
that, that people start with either black and
white, then, you’ve got to say, don’t be surprised
that they’re there. You’re going to say, well, no. I’ve got to actually help people
see beyond the black and white. Now, you won’t tell
them that, because that will be off putting, and
they’ll not come back, and they’ll not engage. They’ll say, she
thinks we’re stupid. I’m not just saying that at all. It’s just very natural
for us to have focused on concretes in front of us. It’s the first thing humans do. So don’t berate people for that. But just as you’re
planning, say, it’s likely that people
will be starting in one place or another,
there’ll be slight variations, but in general, what you’re
going to find around you is a lot of binary thinking. And appreciate,
simultaneously, as you’re thinking about the others,
that the others are really other from you. They’re not you. And you have to do some real
serious work to figure out, who am I working with,
and what do they know? And how do I engage
them productively? Also know that they’re
coming in with a presumption probably, that if we’re going
to talk difficult stuff, that it is going to be hard,
and they’re going to avoid it. And one of the crazy
things is that we think we know about the
other, just because we do, because we always
enter the world with some pre-understanding. So we think we know
about the other, but what we know about
them is always skewed. And similarly, what they know
about us is always skewed. It’s never fully on board. So when they say things,
and we say things, are going to sound
a little off base. They’re going to
sound a little kooky. And I recommend that you enter
with presuming for the good. Here’s a small excerpt from
the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. And he’s instructing directors. He’s saying, “It
should be presumed that every Christian ought
to be more eager to put a good interpretation on
a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it. Further, if one cannot
interpret it favorably, one should ask how
the other means it.” Right? So don’t presume, especially if
you find something upsetting. You say to yourself, I am going
to presume that they didn’t mean to be upsetting to me. Let me find out
what’s behind it. And you live in a world– humans are shaped by
the cultural worlds that they’re in. They use the language
that’s available to them from that cultural world. Of course, they’re going to
speak in ways that in one group makes sense of, and the
other group gets offended by. It’s natural. It’s normal. So we cannot presume
that we’re above that. We all use language that can
be upsetting to other people. Not because we
intend it, but just because that is the reality
of being humans in the world. So how do we, then, put our
best presumption on the other? Let us presume for the
good, but then inquire when we need to know more. But another important thing
that we have to pay attention to is that life is not
an even playing field. When we’re talking about
issues of race, or gender, or ecclesial status, or
socioeconomic, or ethnicity, there’s almost always– in any kind of engagement–
one person who holds more something than the other. Alright. And to engage in
conversation across that is risky on both sides. For the person who is– usually, procedures like on
the bottom side of the scale, the downhill side of
the field, or whatever– who are constantly
fighting uphill, their vulnerability
might be in thinking, if I share this with
you, you’re just one more of these people who’s
going to misunderstand, and use what I have against me. So it takes a while
to break down that, and it takes actually the
relationship to break it down. You have to appreciate
the power dynamic. You can’t simply say listen,
we’re all equals here. We’re all equals. Let’s all sing Kumbaya. You can’t do that
and have it work, because what you
intend for it to be is not necessarily
what people receive. And so, you have
to say yourself, how can I make this more open? How can I make this
more trustworthy? How can I make this more safe? You cannot proclaim
a place safe. This is a safe
space, you should all be able to say your
deepest, darkest thoughts. No. You have to create it in their
presence, and that takes time. That’s why really important
stuff takes a long time to get to, because
in the meantime, you’re building up
the relationship, you’re building up
the trustworthiness of the interlocutors. And say, OK. This I will tell you. Right? And you have to pay attention. If you’re going to
do this well, what is it going to cost for
people to involve themselves? And how do I prepare
for that cost? Or how do I help them get over
those hurdles that are there? Alright. You have to create space
for mistakes and recovery. I think that’s
essential as Christians. There’s a really
interesting chapter– I have been reading this
book, White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. Why it’s so hard for white
people to talk about racism. And what she discovered is that
most of the people she spoke to– and who she’s talking
to are white progressives who invite her in to talk about–
how do we become a more diversified space? And then, she
eventually will have– at some point– have to say to
them, that thing you just did was racist. And they’ll say no, it wasn’t. And she said many of the people
she’s dealing with cannot see the difference between their
intention and its impact. And she said they spent
all of their time arguing how their intention should
be how the other receives it. It’s fascinating. Fascinating. And what’s really
fascinating, is it happens not just in issues of
race, but all sorts of issues. You have to accept
this as I meant it, not as you received it. Alright. Think about that for yourself. If you’re on the
receiving end of that, you know, like, wait a minute. That’s not quite right. And it isn’t quite right. So we have to be very
mindful that our intention is very different than our impact. And we may, in fact, ask
somebody about their intention. I say, I expect
that you intended that to be quite
supportive and thoughtful. Oh, yes. Yes, I did. And did you find it so? I’m like, no. Oh. But I appreciate your intention. Now, if you’re the facilitator
of this, you want to say, I appreciate your intention. The reality is the way it landed
was very different than you intended. So next time, let’s
think about how you might do that differently. Now, the person might
be so overwhelmed that their intention should be
what happened, that they can’t even entertain that, which is a
lot of what DiAngelo encounters with people. But I think really
central for me, for creating a space set
around Christian values, is the understanding
that people have to be able to recover from mistakes. Reconciliation is a centerpiece
of the Christian tradition. So it doesn’t mean that I have
to make them say they’re sorry. That’s not what it means. It means I have to
make it possible for them to say they’re sorry. I have to find a way for them
to recover from their injury, just as I have to– from creating the
injury– just as I have to attend to the
person who has been injured. Otherwise, neither will
be able to move forward in a productive way. So recommendations. Be aware of creating a
relational space when you’re creating spaces for others. Build time and processes as
you get to know one another. When I was doing
the interfaith work, we insisted on having
a break, because we knew that not all the
important conversation was going to happen formally. The people had a different kind
of chat over the coffee pot. And I needed that space
to be there for people. So build time and processes
to get to know one another. Create ground rules
for engagement. I know a lot of people do this. You may have the group do that. You might prompt some
things, but offer others to join in and add to it. And then, you might remind them
of them later in the process. Those things are found– people find them to be helpful. Then start easy. Don’t start with
the hardest stuff first, which some people are
very eager to get stuff done. Well, let’s get to
the meat of the issue. No, work your way
towards it, because this is all part of developing that
relational space, where we’re going to learn how
to trust each other, we’re going to learn how
to listen to each other. It’s not that
listening to each other is hard because I have to
take time to stop and listen. But listening to each
other because I’ve got to figure out how
this person speaks, so I understand
what they’re saying. In the interest
of time, I’m just going to keep moving
through some of these. My fifth step is facilitation. Now, you might imagine
yourself in this process, but facilitation. I find, is really
valuable for difficult conversations with people. And I consider the facilitator,
both as a map-reader and as a traffic cop. These are two images that
came to my mind years ago. The map reader means that
they have a sense of OK. I know where we’re going. I know the bigger objective
of this discussion. And a good map reader
can tell the difference between a dead end,
and a shortcut. So you may be going off the
main route, but you’re like, this one is going
to be productive, and actually this is good. This is good. I’m glad this person
raised this question, we’re going to be
moving over here. And other times,
you’re like, oh, nope, that one’s a dead end. That’s just trying
to get us off topic. So a facilitator takes on the
responsibility for the group, of keeping track of that. Now, it doesn’t mean that
they’re solely responsible. In time, a group
develops its own ethic. But it usually develops a good
one when it’s well facilitated. The other is a traffic cop. The traffic cop knows when
the flow should happen. Sometimes, in some
settings, it doesn’t mean that everybody speaks evenly. In fact, almost in no
setting is that the case. There might be a time when
you want everybody’s voice to be heard, but there
may be other times where the production of the
topic, that only a couple of voices speak, because
a couple of the voices might take the whole group to
somewhere new and valuable. And so, just as a traffic cop
knows that this road needs to clear out more,
because it’s getting way, way, way backed up, and there’s
productive things happening. And this little
side street, I don’t need to stop this
traffic every two seconds just so this traffic can go. OK? So the traffic cop, knowing
to modulate engagement among the members. In all of this, you’re
creating a relational space. So that when you get
to difficult stuff, you’ll keep going. Potentially. Burbules writes, “A
successful dialogue involves a willing
partnership and cooperation in the face of likely
disagreements, confusions, failures, and misunderstandings. Persistence in this
process requires a relation of mutual
respect, trust, and concern– and part of the
dialogical interchange often must relate to the
establishment and maintenance of those bonds.” So you want to say to yourself
as you’re organizing a group, how do I grow in this group? Respect, trust, and concern. You don’t notice– you
don’t have to like them. You don’t have to
agree with them, but you can grow respect,
trust, and concern without those things. The facilitator also
serves as a model. The facilitator models,
hopefully, listening well, thinking out loud. That’s a risky
thing, people don’t like to be seen thinking out
loud because it indicates that they don’t know
something already. So if the facilitator
is thinking out loud, they might even just say, well,
I’m thinking out loud here. And people like, how
startling is that? OK. Appropriate risk
taking, thinking aloud being one of them,
respectful disagreement, crafting questions that
open up the conversation, and the multiple
conversational virtues. So the facilitator,
who’s ready for this, is going to say, alright, my
job is to create a space here, and I’m modeling it as I go. They also invite questions. And we’ve talked about
many of these already. Questions at the
level of experience, personal experience,
clarifying questions that get underneath
externals and coded language. The bi- gets away
from the binaries. Questions that reveal
values and hopes. Questions that unveil
history and perspective. If you’re a good
facilitator, you know that there’s
a lot of work that goes into crafting
good questions that open up conversation and
thought, rather than close it. Think for yourself,
what group settings might you be creating
for conversational space? And what strategies
or tactics do you have for shaping those settings? I’ve named a number. Think about that. In the interest of time, I’m not
going to pause for conversation around this. But you can stay later, any of
you who are able and willing. So let’s move forward. Step six. This is my last
step, reconciliation. You have to allow
people the chance to recover from mistakes. Maybe not in that
moment, but in time. Alright. And because we live in
such a divisive world, you may have to– you have to be very
conscientious about doing it to facilitate
that, if necessary. You have to allow
people to leave. But then, you may have
to allow them or invite them to come back. It’s the only way– I think it’s the
only way forward. Final words of advice for you. Be brave, but be humble. Those two together
are necessary. Thank you. [applause]

Posted by Lewis Heart

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