Dialogue not Argument

November 20, 2011 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Ravi Dev 

Listening to the rhetoric from the campaign platforms only reinforces the old saying, “Politics is a continuation of war by other means.” I resurrect an old call for “dialogue” rather than the present rancorous arguments.
One expert has noted: “Dialogue means we sit and talk with each other, especially those with whom we may think we have the greatest differences. However, talking together all too often means debating, discussing with a view to convincing the other, arguing for our point of view and examining pro’s and con’s. In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate but to inquire; not to argue but to explore; not to convince but to discover.”
Now that the distinction has been made, we can see that up to now we have been debating rather than having a dialogue in the public sphere. Very few have ever been convinced to change their positions, much less their beliefs, through debate; most simply change their tact and introduce new variables in an attempt to “win the argument”.
What we witness are contrary interpretations of the data, which may not be even fully understood by the commentators themselves. No one listens to the other but are busy formulating arguments to counter the points raised.  There arises an easy stereotyping of the other and a refusal to concede on points for fear of possibly appearing “weak” and so letting down “the side”.
Dialogue differs from other major modes of communication especially debate. In debate parties try to justify and defend their assumptions and convince one another that their opinion is the right opinion. Disputants have a tendency to become defensive and reactive.
Dialogue, on the other hand, seeks to inform and learn rather than to persuade. It is a conversation “animated by a search for understanding rather than for agreements or solutions.” One is concerned not only about oneself and one’s own position, but also about the other party and the position that that party advances. Participants focus on their relationship and the joint process of making sense of each other, rather than winning or losing.
Dialogue has no fixed goal or pre-determined agenda. The emphasis is not on resolving disputes, but rather on improving the way in which people with significant differences relate to each other. The broad aim is to promote respectful inquiry, and to stimulate a new sort of conversation that allows important issues to surface freely. While opponents in deep-rooted conflict are unlikely to agree with each other’s views, they can come to understand each other’s perspectives.
This involves uncovering and examining their assumptions and judgments. When people enter into conversations with others, they bring with them basic assumptions about the meaning of life, their country’s interest, how society works, and what is most valuable. Most of these basic assumptions come from society and are rooted in culture, race, religion, and economic background. As a result, people coming from different backgrounds have different basic assumptions and values, and these clashing views and perspectives often lead to conflict.
Dialogue attempts to expose these assumptions and the thought processes that lie behind them. It calls on participants to pay attention to their thinking, feelings, assumptions, and patterns of communication. In dialogue, participants explore the pre-suppositions, beliefs, and feelings that shape their interactions; they discover how hidden values and intentions control people’s behaviour and contribute to communication successes and failures.
However, this can happen only if people are able to listen to each other without prejudice and without trying to influence one another. Because its broad goal is to increase understanding about parties’ concerns, fears, and needs, dialogue centres on inquiry and reflection. Participants refrain from assuming that they already know the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the other. Instead, they assume that the other is speaking honestly from experience, and listen closely. This process of deep listening and reflection typically slows down the speed at which parties converse.
Each participant can examine the pre-conceptions and prejudices that lie behind his or her opinions and feelings, and then share these insights with one another. Participants not only expose ideas to one another’s scrutiny, but also open themselves up to the possibility that their ideas will be changed. This means that they try to appreciate what the other side is saying and keep their ears open, even when they do not like what they hear. To be fully open to new ideas, participants must be ready to abandon their old ideas in the face of new and better ones. They must be willing to change their minds and emerge from the dialogue as altered people. If they instead strive to convey their own points of view and defend their positions, genuine dialogue will not be possible.”
Are we ready for real dialogue in Guyana? OK, not now. But maybe later?

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