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34: CIVIL DIALOG

Welcome to the 34th post in our Journey in Dialog. Given the current lack of civil rhetoric, should we consider the term “civil dialog” to be an oxymoron?

After the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, The Christian Science Monitor reported that Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush spoke about the need for “social discourse in society.” Bush added that civility helps people learn from the struggles and stories of their fellow citizens and that “civil dialogue” is about “finding our better selves in the process.”

Dialog requires deep and active listening, empathy to hear the meaning behind the words, openness in order to change understandings, and recognition that gaining knowledge necessitates continuous discovery. If we choose words that impart being dumb, naïve, out-of-touch, even dangerous, how can we find our better selves in the process of dialog?

In his newsletter, Dan Schawbel shared an interview with professor and author, Brené Brown, whose TED talk — “The Power of Vulnerability” — is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world with more than thirty million views.

Schawbel asked Brown why we have a crisis of disconnection in our society. She replied, “We’ve sorted ourselves into factions based on our politics and ideology. We’ve turned away from one another and toward blame and rage. We’re lonely and untethered. … Any answer to the question ‘How did we get here?’ is certain to be complex. But If I had to identify one core variable that magnifies our compulsion to sort ourselves into factions while at the same time cutting ourselves off from real connection with other people, my answer would be fear. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of the pain of disconnection. Fear of criticism and failure. Fear of conflict. Fear of not measuring up.”

A root cause of this disconnection, said Brown, is our loss of a sense of true belonging. “We’re in a spiritual crisis. The key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection. That connection — the spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world – is not something that can be broken; however, our belief in the connection is constantly tested and repeatedly severed. When our belief that there’s something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks, we are more likely to retreat to our bunkers, to hate from afar, to tolerate bullshit and to dehumanize others.”

“It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. If we are going to change what is happening in a meaningful way, we’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. … We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”

“If leaders really want people to show up, speak out, take chances, and innovate, we have to create cultures where people feel safe — where their belonging is not threatened by speaking out, and they are supported when they make the decision to brave the wilderness, stand alone, and speak truth to bullshit while maintaining civility.”

Mariah Helgeson (@mariahism) reminds us that graceful disagreement makes the world go round, and it is rediscovering that grace that Brené Brown articulates in her guidelines for engaged feedback:

• I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
• I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
• I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
• I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
• I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
• I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
• I’m willing to own my part.
• I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
• I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
• I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

Brown’s guidelines for engaged feedback sound like good guidelines for civil dialog.

© 2018 The Living Dialog™ Ministries

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