THE BLOG
12/20/2016 08:54 am ET Updated Dec 20, 2017

In a Dialogue: In a Dignilogue

In a Dialogue: In a Dignilogue
By Carol Smaldino

Circulating on the web this week is a piece by Maria Popova from her very creative, exciting and timely web site www.brainpickings.org that includes some thoughts of the renowned physicist David Bohm on the subject of communication. They come together in a series of essays from the 1970s and 80s, called "On Dialogue". Due to the extraordinary impasse that we seem to be encountering within our own country, the subject is of crucial importance.

I have in my own writing, (in a book "Talking out Loud about the Human Climate", expected release by Dignity Press in Fall of 2017) been discussing a concept that I'm referring to as "talking out loud" and which is about establishing the climate of freedom and curiosity, that seems hard to come by at this moment in time. Just over a week ago, I attended a conference held every year at Columbia University Teachers College by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Group, an international organization devoted to peaceful conflict resolution, dignity and a world without humiliation.

HDHS has created what they are calling "dignilogues", that basically reinforce the presence of dignity within a dialogue. This includes certain principles such as having dignity involved moving towards increased appreciation of the other party's contribution. It is about moving towards a deeper and more ready sense of community, commonality and curiosity. That is when people can move towards something new, and a more ready interest in taking the time to consider something else or build towards something new even within.

My own fascination, which translates to preoccupation at this point in history, is what stands in the way of talking and listening with more dignity and openness. It isn't the kind of questioning that would yield satisfaction with an answer that is smart only, because it's something that needs to be fixed. It is clearly not enough to build in parameters about constructive communication since that alone does not attend to the resistances we can all have, what Bohm has called "blocks".

He seems to see blocks as a kind of self-protective armor that on the surface protects us from uncertainty. That same protection blocks our capacity to listen and to create something new in the process of inner reflection or interacting with another.

Could there be some interest in meeting in the middle to learn to communicate, so we are left less as prisoners of defensiveness? And so we can be part of the teaching and learning with our children about this most urgent need.
Facts, concerns, empathy, warnings--they cannot be shared and taken in if there is no openness. Which leaves us not with adapting methods prematurely but also studying our fears of getting nearer to those who disagree with us.

Here the method comes close to the purpose. In other words if we debate, we are stuck in the paradigm of power, of winning and losing only. If we know we will be heard, and deserve the dignity of getting to know our own story of how we got to think and feel a certain way, we might lower our guard and embrace a different layer of sincerity. For me, the story of how we get to a given way of confronting things, some stories of our childhood and how we associated belief systems with perhaps the only way of being, can be crucial. We can't begin to embrace interest in new knowledge unless we are in touch with our vulnerability, i.e. openness to uncertainty, and fear less changing our mind.

I think of talking out loud about talking out loud, not assuming that one way of approaching this will obliterate the fears we may be stuck in. The idea is getting in touch, not only with our point of view, but also with the things that might be blocking us from an ability and interest in listening freely. This can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, of the others in our midst and helps us negotiate the barriers to communication.

According to Bohm, in a real dialogue there is no emphasis on winning or losing. Not only is gaining points not the point so to speak; everyone gains whenever there is a mistake made on either side. This reminds me of Carl Jung's adage that it is by owning our imperfections that we can own our needs and thereby be available to love and caring.
It's a bit like saying that by admitting that we need each other we can connect and benefit from the assets we can find in others. It's like when social psychologist Jonathan Haidt reminds us that in terms of political conservatives and liberals, we all need aspects the other is good in, better than us.

Some years ago, there was an increased popularity in schools of teaching children to learn. It was learning how to learn that mattered, rather than coming out appearing to know everything. At a time when information changes so rapidly and discoveries shift our perspectives, our quest needs to be more in the realm of learning how to admit mistakes, and to go deeper into the realm of our own insecurities so we don't rely on beating other people to feel worthwhile.

We are witnessing a time when many people are averse to saying they don't know, of taking the time to have dialogues and question their own assumptions. If we label the other person giving us reports on climate change, as the enemy and as bogus, we set up the rules of a rule of prejudice. I realize that any new information can be frightening because it puts our assumptions into a state of uncertainty. And yet, a newer different kind of security and even faith comes in our capacity to work it out (whatever the "It" might be) together.

None of us are immune from assumptions that kill even the initiative for dialogue. Bohm suggested: that we look inside at our own blocks so at least we don't sink into our own righteous denial that separates only.