last year i was part of the denver faith & justice conference, a lovely event that included so many wonderful conversations. as part of the kick off, we set up the importance of cultivating dignified dialogue at the gathering. the people attending came from a wide variety of faith traditions, and justice issues stir up a lot of strong feelings. we used these guidelines for communication, and they seemed to set the stage for more safety & better listening.
here were the 5 guidelines for dignified dialogue:
1. consider first: ”that person is first and foremost a child of God, created in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect”
2. ask questions to clarify understanding instead of only make statements.
3. stick with “i think” or “my opinion is” or “my interpretation is” instead of making generalizations like “God says or God thinks” or “the Bible says”.
4. remember that this is an opportunity to listen and learn not convince, give advice, or change anyone else.
5. honor the time with brevity and give others a chance to finish their thought before sharing yours.
these are a start for sure, and were great for a 1 day conference where there wasn’t a ton of time to engage beyond just hearing each other and setting the table for understanding. the question came up a few months later on how to dig deeper together, how to hold a space beyond just a limited conversation, and how to maintain dignified dialogue in more meaningful conversations together. the textures could be so different. sometimes, deeper isn’t possible because of safety issues. or the relationship isn’t strong enough to hack it. or there’s just not time or desire to engage more intently.
but if there is a space for it, sometimes it helps to have some ideas of questions to further the conversation.
today, as part of this healing the divides week, i thought i’d just toss out a few. i am sure you have some better ones to add, but maybe this is a start. i can’t say it enough, though: we can’t go deeper with unsafe people. it just won’t work. it doesn’t mean both parties need to be perfectly safe (we’re human and that’s an impossibility), but it does mean we need enough health in there to make it work.
of course, good reflective listening skills are always helpful (here’s what i hear you saying..), but there are also some other questions we might be able to ask to engage more deeply in some of these hard conversations where we have definite differences:
- what is your story? how did you get to where you are are today? (the truth is that’s the best thing we’ve got, to hear each other’s real stories)
- what are some of the primary things that influenced you to believe what you now believe?
- how have some of your views changed over time?
- what troubles you about where you have currently landed? what doubts do you have about your position or perspective?
- what brings you the most peace? what parts feel most clear?
- how have you wrestled with the scriptures about this?
- what do you fear? how has that influenced you?
- what misperceptions do you think people might have about you or your views?
- what have been some of the costs to your beliefs? relationships, church, jobs, etc.?
- how have you felt misunderstood?
- what are ways i might be able to help you feel more understood? (bonus points for this one!)
what other ones would you add?
God, help us hold a space for these respectful and deeper dialogues so we can learn from and better understand each other.
if you’re just landing here, the other posts in this “healing the divides” series are:
- 8 ways those from more liberal-progressive or conservative-evangelical persuasions can better love each other.
- safer people make safer conversations
- breaking down walls
- and i’ll add a past one that fits into this series but was from a while back, intra-faith dialogue
last post tomorrow is a formation friday; haven’t had one of those in a while. it’s called “our inner pharisee”