Welcome to the 33rd post in our Journey in Dialog. In this post we highlight the insights and message from public opinion analyst and social scientist, Daniel Yankelovich, in his book, The Magic of Dialogue – Transforming Conflict into Cooperation.
His polls convinced Yankelovich that Americans hunger for a sense of community where people care about each other in the spirit of Martin Buber’s I-Thou relationships. Yet he found that elites like government officials, media pundits, lawyers, judges, intellectuals, scientists, top military brass, the medical establishment, and other leaders treat the mass of Americans as objects to be manipulated.
Yankelovich called for a political will to use dialog as a lever to move society toward new forms of public engagement. He envisioned “relationship leadership” that would cross borders, seek alignment on a shared vision, tolerate complexity, and develop networks of relationships.
He warned that our prevailing social worldview assumed knowledge based on a dichotomy between values and facts. “As a result we are becoming technological giants and sociological midgets. We produce a mind-boggling flow of technological marvels at the same time as our civic virtues of mutual respect, trust, concern, neighborliness, community, love, and caring are slowly eroding.”
Yankelovich references dialog advocates including David Bohm, Peter Senge, and William Isaacs, but his reflections on the insights of Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, are especially poignant.
“In philosopher Martin Buber’s classic work, I and Thou, Buber suggests that in authentic dialogue something far deeper than ordinary conversation goes on. The I Thou interaction implies a genuine openness of each to the concerns of the other.
“In such dialogue, ‘I’ do not, while talking with you, selectively tune out views with which I disagree, nor do I busy myself marshaling arguments to rebut you while only half attending to what you have to say, nor do I seek to reinforce my own prejudices. Instead, I fully ‘take in’ your viewpoint, engaging with it in the deepest sense of the term. You do likewise. Each of us internalizes the views of the other to enhance our mutual understanding.
“To Buber we owe the stunning insight that, apart from its obvious practical value (most problem solving demands mutual understanding), dialogue expresses an essential aspect of the human spirit. Buber knew that dialogue is a way of being.
“In Buber’s philosophy, life itself is a form of meeting and dialogue is the ‘ridge’ on which we meet. In dialogue, we penetrate behind the polite superficialities and defenses in which we habitually armor ourselves. We listen and respond to one another with an authenticity that forges a bond between us.
“In this sense, dialogue is a process of successful relationship building. Buber recognized that by performing the seemingly simple act of responding empathically to others and in turn being heard by them, we transcend the constricting confines of the self. … The act of reaching beyond the self to relate to others in dialogue is a profound human yearning.”
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