11/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When You Only Have a Hammer...Debate

Rudy Giuliani on The View on 9/11 reflected on the meaning of this day in our history. He stated that as a result of 9/11, Republicans and Democrats came together to bring the country out of crisis. He went on to say that this act of coming together only lasted for a few months. Both parties then went back to disagreeing and debating. After all, that is what Republicans and Democrats do...they disagree and debate.

As the saying goes, when you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail. If the only thing Republicans and Democrats know how to do is disagree and debate, we are in a sorry state of affairs.The ill effects of having only one communication tool is hindering our efforts to reform health care.

Debate is a form of communication designed to win over, influence and persuade. In a debate one listens for rebuttal rather than listening to understand. The goal of a debate is to win rather than to achieve new ways of knowing and understanding.

Dialogue is form of communication used for complex issues such as the ones we are now facing as a country. It aims to enlighten and create an atmosphere where everyone learns and grows. Dialogue is useful for creative thinking and developing new approaches and methods.

We need new approaches and methods to the age-old problem of health care reform. It is easier to debate health care reform because you only have to believe and push your side of the issue. Facts do not matter because in such a complex issue "facts" come in many forms. Choose your fact and just keep pushing it.

Dialogue requires that you suspend your understanding of the issue to get clarity on the other side of the issue. Dialogue requires a non-defensive, non-competitive posture, a spirit of inquiry, openness to influence, and respect for each other as colleagues. These conditions are far harder to achieve than to create conditions for a debate. Toddlers and adolescents have the emotional maturity to debate. Dialogue requires a level of emotional maturity sorely missing from too many of our civic leaders.

As a diversity champion, I have this fantasy that if there were more women in the Senate and the House of Representatives we might move toward dialogue. But I live in reality where I am getting pounded by the hammer of debate.