A google search of “dialogue” turned up more than 2 million entries. More than I’ll get read this weekend!
However, I wanted to see if there are guidelines that might be helpful to read as we discuss critical issues in our civic life about which we disagree strongly.
In fact, there are. The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation provides a variety of useful tools and connections to groups that are conducting dialogue for constructive purposes.
First, I’m concerned that the whole culture has become more coarse and crude. It isn’t prudish to not want to be exposed to sexually explicit, dehumanizing language when you’re sitting in the privacy of your own home watching television, for example. But this is a common occurrence and the only way to avoid it is to turn off the TV. I think we’ve done terrible disservice to our children to provide popular culture that is so disrespectful of human dignity.
But I also think that poverty and social injustice are disrespectful of human dignity as well and if we don’t address these we we demonstrate a coarse disregard for the sanctity of life, so it’s not just popular culture that needs attention.
Secondly, I’m concerned that the political conversation has become toxic. It’s common to hear personal attacks, highly charged rhetoric, condemnation and negative stereotyping that only results in response in kind. This isn’t dialogue and it won’t help us to resolve our differences. In fact, it could well undermine our civic community.
As I write, I risk sounding as if I’m pontificating. I’m aware this can be called naive’, or prudish, or unrealistic. Maybe so. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, too. But I think this kind of behavior desensitizes us to the humanity of others and, ultimately, is dehumanizing for the whole of society.
And I think we need to call it into question when we hear it, especially in the political or religious dialogue where we can make a difference. And I think we need to be advancing for discussion alternatives about the important issues that we face and lay aside the personal attacks and inflated rhetoric.