A World Made Better by Genuine Communication and Dialogue
A world without dialogue is a universe of darkness. If people don’t get together and share views and exchange ideas, they remain unaware, ignorant, and unconscious.
The year 2020 was one permeated by tensions at all levels – international, national, regional, and local. Conflicts seem to be increasing at almost every level in society; and given the increased levels of mental distress caused by COVID-19 lockdowns, we seem more conflicted than ever, even within ourselves.
This conflict can be evident even in our physical self. Communication is indeed part of the DNA of every living person. The billions of cells in our body and neurons in our brain are parts of intricate communication networks.
One aspect of disease is when communication channels are blocked, for example, by inflammation. In an intellectual level, one is unlikely to be an effective communicator without self-awareness.
Yet, another dimension of communication breakdown is the media, especially social media, which too often negates the public good with false information as people lock themselves inside their own bubble with little genuine exposure to a diversity of opinion.
During these troubled times, and as we look forward to a more settled 2021, it is important to re-double our efforts to achieve genuine and more effective communication and dialogue at various levels.
Communication and reflection are vital for genuine growth and gaining wisdom. Discovering our own identity and notion of self, however, does not mean we work everything out on our own. Indeed, our “social” self is formed through interaction and dialogue with others.
The most neglected aspect of communication is listening. As Stephen Covey has observed: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Indeed, as Prof Leo Buscaglia has argued: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Listening is a great way to learn; and with learning over a lifetime may come wisdom. As Mark Twain wrote: “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have rather talked.”
Genuine dialogue requires humility. As Romain Rolland wrote in “Above the Battle”:
“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.”
It is important to acknowledge that we all have our blind spots and limitations. It is unlikely that anyone knows all of the facts or has all of the truth on their side. Reality tends to be complex and with many shades of grey. Wherever possible, we should be willing to listen, to see the other person’s view and looking for a compromise that results in a win-win for both parties.
Effective communication also takes courage. It takes courage to be present for the other party, to put aside your own arguments for a second, and be genuinely open and willing to see things from their point of view.
It is also important to realize that, while the process of communication is vital and valuable for its own sake, this does not mean that there will always be an answer. As writer Edward De Bono observed: “In 80% of Socrates’ dialogues there was no constructive outcome. He saw his role as simply pointing out what was ‘wrong’.”
Through genuine dialogue we may come to see and transform our enemy into an opponent and eventually a colleague and then a friend and ally. Through dialogue we seek to understand the other person’s position and to be understood.
This does not mean we have to agree with the other person. It does not mean we shy away from persuasively arguing our point of view. No one should be afraid of the truth. It does mean that we accept the dignity of everyone; that we realize that the world is a small and inter-connected place. The super-power of we weak and puny humans is in our ability to communicate and cooperate with one another.
Communication reduces stress in both our external and internal worlds. Communication is indeed the world’s only hope of peace. Communication with others is also one of the most important sources of learning.
When people do not communicate and share views they remain ignorant of one another. This does not mean that communication is without conflict. Teamwork, for example, is most effective when the parties trust each other enough to engage in genuine creative conflict.
When people challenge our ideas, it is most likely to lead to the best solution and avoid the dangers of “group-think.” Internally, both intra-personal and inter-personal dialogue can help us find peace and tranquility.
Finally, improving our communication and dialogue demands hard work. Yet, it is important to realize as did Belgian artist, Erik Pevernagie, that: “A world without dialogue is a universe of darkness. If people don’t get together and share views and exchange ideas, they remain unaware, ignorant, and unconscious. As they live in a space that they don’t understand, everything becomes meaningless, incoherent, and forcefully scary. If fear rules our lives, we lose the core of our being, since ‘fear’ is disrupting the schedule of our existence, and blocks the waves of the good vibrations.”
Eugene Clark is a columnist with China.org.cn.