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Posts Tagged ‘Public Dialogue’

I have been a lot of discussion and debates recently over everything from religion to politics, from environmentalism to capitalism and beyond. It is very stimulating.  I always enjoy it when I meet people with opposing views who are articulate and cogent in their arguments.  The debate can help sharpen my own thinking or argumentation.  Sometimes, I even change my mind or at least give a little ground!

Not everyone is suited for these types of engagements, however. I find people from all across the spectrum of ideas, beliefs and philosophies who hold to ideas without solid reason.  In other words, they know what they believe.  They simply do not know why they believe other than someone else told them or they learned it somewhere.  For some, this causes them to dig deeper and search out answers.  For others, they simply blockade behind what they already believe and pursue it no further.

The intolerable ones in the public dialogue are always the ones, from whatever side of the issues, who are more concerned about being right than anything else. It is more important for them to be right than it is to respect the others differing opinions or feelings.  It is more important for them to assert what they deem to be the absolute truth than it is to mutually seek understanding and arriving at “truth” together with someone they started out in disagreement with in the first place.  In most cases, they may win the argument but they lose the battle.

The real battle in so much of our public dialogues of late is not who has the right answer but who can be the right person. Everyone thinks they have the right answers, whatever the subject being debated.  We witnessed this during the recent public health reform debate.  We see it in the discussion over financial reforms for Wall Street.  We hear it in the discussion about what to do with terrorists, or the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, or immigration reform, or drug control, or…well, you get the idea.

There are certain high profile individuals on both sides of any issue who think that shouting the loudest, more smartly demeaning their opponents or gaining mass agreement is all that is important to win the day. Once again, I am afraid the focus upon only winning the debate or argument will ultimately lose the larger battle of gaining common ground and understanding to build relationships and alliances.

Being right does not, no matter what one may think, necessarily guarantee one has the moral high ground if assertion of it only leads to hostilities and making enemies. One can be right in all the facts and wrong in every way.  However, being wrong in all the facts but right in one’s attitude and actions will, I am confident, ultimately bring one to the right conclusions even if their starting point was erroneous.  A position of being a humble learner of another’s point of view is not a position of weak acquiescence to their position.

I think this position is true in any number of relationships. For instance, should a parent assert their “rightness” over seeking to understand the position or thinking of their child?  I have been guilty of this – thinking that I must somehow convince them that I know better and that I know right.  I have discovered that sometimes seeking to understand their thinking and point of view become the bridge that convinces them that I am right after all.  In other words, being the right kind of person to my child is more important than always being right.

Lincoln City, Oregon, August, 2009

Lincoln City, Oregon, August, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

How many relationships have been ruined because individuals were more concerned about asserting the idea that they are right than they were about being the right friend, parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, etc to the people around them?  Constructive dialogue sometimes requires us to enter into the world and mind of the other person before we make them cross the bridge into ours.  Seeking to be the right person for what is needed to reach mutual understanding becomes more important than simply being right all the time.

This does not require an individual to give up what they believe to be a rational and cogent point of view. They do not need to adopt erroneous thinking or a bad idea.  It is possible to hold onto one’s position and still enter into another person’s thought processes to understand them and their reasoning.  This exchange does not necessitate a denial of what one’s believe is true.  It does necessitate an honest effort to understand others.

So, the next time you are faced with someone who does not see things the way you do, whether it is your child, co-worker, friend, relative or acquaintance ask yourself,Do I simply want to be right?  Or to understand and be understood?”  The answer to that question will determine the outcome of the discussion or debate.  What do you want from this relationship; to be right or to be the right person?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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