#602 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #33. An invitation to dialogue

The below commentary, by myself, appears in today’s Woodbury Bulletin. It is in response to a front page article and editorial in last weeks Bulletin: here and here.
I know nothing about the person who is calling the meeting, nor anything about what her motivation might be, nor who will come on July 31st (I hope to be in attendance myself). Regardless of the ‘facts’, it is important to recognize such gatherings and to contribute to the extent possible to greater mutual understanding.
There’s Value in Dialogue over Monologue
by Dick Bernard
I applaud Kelly DeBrine’s seeking “open, honest chat on taxes”. I hope her event on July 31 is the first of many such meetings.
But she will need a lot of patience and persistence.
There are many words in the front page article and accompanying editors commentary.
I was looking to find application of a single specific concept.
I saw: “Talk”; “chat”; “conversation”; “lawn signs”; “[decision] without allowing the public to weigh in”; “debates”; “saying the [tax] word out loud”; “rhetoric”; “discussion”; “arguments”; “exploration”; “civility…with grace”.
Some words I thought I’d see were missing, such as false or misleading media ads anonymously funded; dishonest robocalls; and those hateful and lie-filled “forwards” that are passed computer to computer and pass for political discourse these days….
The concept I was looking for was dialogue (yes, some words above are synonyms).
I have long been taken with a quotation I saw in Joseph Jaworskys book, “Synchronitiy, the Inner Path of Leadership” (1996). Preceding the chapter on Dialogue: The Power of Collective Thinking, Jaworsky included the following quote from David Bohms “On Dialogue”. It speaks to this business of talking with, rather than talking to, over, or at others:
“From time to time, (the) tribe (gathered) in a circle.
They just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose. They made no decisions. There was no leader. And everybody could participate.
There may have been wise men or wise women who were listened to a bit more, the older ones, but everybody could talk.
The meeting went on, until it finally seemed to stop for no reason at all and the group dispersed.
Yet after that, everybody seemed to know what to do, because they understood each other so well. Then they could get together in smaller groups and do something or decide things.”
Of course, even such a concept as dialogue is susceptible to misuse: over four years ago my pastor tried to defuse what he called “inflammatory language” on an issue that still divides members in our large church. It was very obvious he was being pressured by and agreed with, one particular belief ‘side’. To all of us he wrote this in his Sunday Bulletin column: “We need to invite people into dialogue so that they can see the wisdom of our words and understand the moral rightness of our position”.
So, one was right, the other wrong…I didn’t feel that was “dialogue”, and I told him so.
Yes, we are having huge problems in working out our differences in our society, and Ms DeBrine is to be congratulated on taking on the issue of usage of a word.
But the dominant view, now, is to try to bludgeon the opposition into irrelevance by any and all means necessary. I’ve seen it happen, including at meetings in our town.
I’ve been at a public meeting in this community (April 9, 2009) that was so tightly controlled that police were in attendance and certain questions were not welcome. Our role was to sit and listen, apparently.
I’ve been at another, fairly recently (Jan. 31, 2012), where an attempt to have an open conversation was dominated by a big loudmouth who stood in the back of the room and did his best to disrupt any attempt at civil discourse. Some others were like teenagers disrupting class.
I’ve also been part of groups in Woodbury which attempted to do exactly what Kelly is trying to do. In fact, a few of us continue to stay in contact in civil conversation, though not in person.
I part company with Ms DeBrine in one important respect. She says “we’re all responsible for our democracy, it’s not just the politicians.”
In my view, every single one of us ARE the “politicians”, if we disconnect we’ll get exactly what we deserve.
It is demeaning to those hard-working citizens of our town who are seeking public office this fall, to now call them just “politicians”.
We are all “running for office” in November. We best act accordingly.
from Joyce: Of course it was Aristotle who said, “man is a political animal”; it is too bad too many people cede the political role to the politicians.
From Sue: Dick, beautifully written. I especially like your response to her comment about the politicians. You’re right; we’re all the politicians because we care about our community, our nation, our world, and we are striving to make the world a better place. Being a politician can and should be a noble endeavor, and it’s up to each of us to make sure that those we elect are deserving and responsive!
from Tom: Dick, Nice work! I enjoyed reading your article over breakfast this morning, and your quote from “On Dialog” brought a smile to my face. All the best.
from Kelly: (see comments section below)
I responded to her as follows: Thank you for your comment on my blog post. Most likely I’ll be at the meeting, since I have a real interest in dialogue.
There is an unfortunate tendency to separate out from the rest anyone who runs for office, whatever you choose to call them, elected officials, politicians, whatever.
Just briefly, whether I agree with them or not, anyone who files for any office, and puts up with the hard work and often abuse that goes with the task, deserves to be included as one of us; and we are one of them, however uninvolved we happen to be.
It is a good topic. [While] I don’t know you, I wish you success.