Tag Archives: dialogue

Real Tolerance: Understanding vs. Conversion

A couple weeks ago I, while on a flight to Washington DC, found myself in conversation with a guy who makes documentaries for a living.

It started out as a chat about camera lenses and moved quickly into a discussion on his favorite topic, global warming. Something about the early bits of our talk must have put him at ease because he started to REALLY go off on the COMPLETE stupidity of conservatives. I told him I thought the trouble was that as a society we were becoming so polarized that it was becoming less and less possible to have rational dialogue.

He nodded in agreement then shared with stunned amazement the example of a friend of his from college, someone he had sheared life with, been in a band with, gotten drunk with who had become a university professor, adopted a conservative perspective and, in his words, become an idiot. When he finally cycled back to global warming I took a risk.

“You know”, I said, “I actually come from more of a conservative perspective myself. I don’t disagree with your evidence of ice caps melting or temperatures rising but what is missing for me is proof of causality. If it really the humans fault then we should see some correlation between temperature change and population growth coupled with industrialization. I just haven’t seen that piece.”

He launched…

Him: “Well, do you believe in science?”
Me: “Yeah, I was a science major in college. I believe in the scientific method and the repeatability of results, sure.”
Him: “No, I mean to you believe in evolution?”
Me: “No, I’m more of a creation guy.”
Him: “Pfft, so you think the earth was created in just seven days?!?”
Me: “Not necessarily, Genesis says, ‘there was morning and there was evening, the first day’, in Kansas that is 24 hours. In northern Alaska that is a year. I’m open to the idea that the Genesis days could be time periods and any length.”

I must have passed some sort of entrance exam at that point because he began to share his views on global warming in an animated but not antagonistic manner. When we got to the key point on human causality, after careful previous argument, decently justified statistics, and seemingly rational assessment of potential results, he said, “It has to be humans, there is no other answer.”

Really? That’s all you got? It HAS to be?

Of course I didn’t say that out loud. We finished the conversation amicably, even swapped contact information and went our separate ways as long flight seatmates seemingly always do.

So what just happened there, in my opinion, was a small example of a contrast of goals.

My goal in the conversation was understanding. I wanted to both clarify my position, (not all conservatives are stupid and we need to be able to dialogue), and understand his, (conservatives are stupid particularly when it comes to global warming). His goal in the conversation was conversion. He wanted to prove to an idiot conservative that they were wrong and he was right. In doing so he stereotyped me, made assumptions, and he ascribed motive. All included in the no-no list I posted last week.

As a result of that conversation a couple of truths about tolerance became newly clear to me:

1. True tolerance is about wide goals, not narrow goals.
As I said last week tolerance begins from a point of disagreement. Thus the widest goal under the heading of tolerance is understanding. But too often the conversation narrows to conversion, then narrows still further to debate when conversion seems to be failing. This is where the hate speech starts to come in to play.

2. True tolerance is about compromise, not all or nothing.
Too often cries for “tolerance” are really just masks for pushing forward a particular agenda. You can tell this by the narrowness of goals and the speed with which the conversation turns to claims of hatred. There will ALWAYS be points of disagreement. You can choose to focus the conversation there, narrow goal, or work to find points of compromised agreement, wide goal.

The recent hoopla between the LGBT community and chicken eating conservative Christians has highlighted the fact that these two camps hold COMPLETELY different view of life, the world, and everything. There are obviously, without doubt, narrowly focused sub groups on either side of the debate, but even in THIS instance there are points of tolerant compromise that can be found. We just need to be willing to find points of agreed upon compromise through tolerant dialogue.

What is it like when you find yourself in a truly tolerant dialogue?

 

 

 

Five Guidelines for Having Tolerant Conversations

A number of years ago I had a set of Mormon missionaries show up at my door. As an evangelical Christian pastor I probably wasn’t going to be the easiest conversation that they had in the neighborhood.

I told the guys that we could have a conversation but that we needed to agree to a couple of caveats first.

1. We needed to agree we were both seeking to serve God as best we could.
2. We needed to agree that we were not both right.
3. We needed to agree that we were going to focus on the first agreement rather than the second.

You see if we focused on the second agreement then the conversation would center on trying to prove each other wrong, a debate. But if we focused on the first agreement then we’d be focusing on trying to reach a mutual understanding of what it meant to serve God.

We engaged in an ongoing conversation over about three months. In the end we parted as friends each with a deeper understanding of the others position but neither of us having “budged”.

That experience helped me learn a couple things about what it means to have a “tolerance” conversation. I’d like to share five guidelines for having conversations between folks of disparate points of view.

1. You have to understand that tolerance means disagreement.

You don’t “tolerate” things, people, or positions with which you agree. That means if you’re going to enter into conversations that are categorized as being “tolerant” they will be with people that hold a position that is opposed to yours. That being said you have to determine if your goal in the conversation is to “convert” someone to your point of view, or to help each other reach a deeper level of understanding.

2. You have to hold stereotypes at bay.

It’s easy to label someone based on stereotypes. Imagine a conversation between someone who has been labeled as a “conservative christian” and someone described as a “liberal democrat”. Each of those descriptions carry with them enough baggage to incur more charges than a transatlantic airline ticket.

If you try to have a conversation through the lenses of stereotypes you wind up ascribing meaning to words that may not be intended. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to completely ignore or erase stereotypes. Recognizing that they’re there and may be at play is important in creating an atmosphere of understanding. Holding off stereotypes is critical.

3. You have to avoid “always” and “never”

Absolutes are not only grandiose but they very rarely accurately apply. It’s easy to say to someone  “You people always…” or “You just never…” That type of statement not only creates a blanket label but it also invokes stereotypes. The truth is that you never know if someone “always” or “never” because you aren’t always around them, so let the absolutes go.

4. You cannot ascribe motive

This one is huge and is, perhaps, the biggest challenge. It is easy to accuse someone of “hating”, which is an internal motive, because you interpret their external actions through your own set of experiences.

By way of example: if I make the statement that I am not sure where I stand on the issue of same sex marriage, I know conservative Christians who would react by saying that I am backsliding and abandoning biblical truth. At the same time there would be those in the LGBT community who would quickly label me as one of those Christian haters. In either case they’d be wrong specifically because they’d be ascribing motive to my words.

Unfortunately the issue is far more complex than whether or not to allow two people to be defined as a married couple but if you jump straight to ascribing motive to my words then there is no opportunity to engage in the kind of deeper dialogue that fosters understanding.

5. You have to decide what will be and acceptable outcome to the conversation

This is where we come full circle. Remember that the starting point was disagreement, hence the need for tolerance. If the only acceptable outcome for the conversation is converting someone to your point of view then the risk is high for the conversation to break down at some point. If instead the goal is to reach deeper mutual understanding then the chances for good conversation are greatly increased.

We hold the right to freedom of speech as a core right for people everywhere. Given that people will express their opinions, and given that those opinions are becoming increasingly polarized these days, you can either choose to have good conversations with fewer people accompanied by more arguments, or learn to converse with the folks that require you to be “tolerant”. Which will you choose?

What are some examples of good “tolerant” conversation you’ve had?

Chick-fil-A and the Silliness of “Tolerance”

If you have your finger on the pulse on social news lately you’re no doubt aware the those mean and nasty homophobic people at Chick-fil-A have been at it again.

It seems that President Dan Cathy was being interviewed on a radio show, probably sitting in his backyard in shirt sleeves just shooting the breeze. While discussing fatherhood Cathy commented that he supported the Biblical view of marriage being between a man and a woman and further stated, “I think we are inviting God’s judgement on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage’.”

No surprises there. The Cathy’s are well known and outspoken about having founded and continuing to run their company on Christian principles. You’d think it would be more of a surprise if Dan had said anything different.

Apparently though the “tolerance minded” mayors of both Boston and Chicago have taken it upon themselves to be quite intolerant of Dan’s position.

It seems now that in Chicago at least the claim by the city government is that Chick-fil-A’s values are “not reflective of their (our) city” and both cities are telling Chick-fil-A that at a minimum they don’t want them doing business there and at a maximum they will actively try to block them from expanding there.

And here’s the silly part…they’ll block them because they claim Chick-fil-A is intolerant!!! I should note that “silly” was not my first choice for word or phrase there but I wanted the post to stay away from profanity so I chose to go with it.

I wonder if the mayors of Chicago and Boston are also ready to condemn and kick out the Catholic church from within their city limits. Will they stop the Salvation Army from ringing bells at Christmas too? Will the Chicago city government go after Moody Bible Institute as well and give them the boot? All of these organizations share a similar perspective on marriage.

Truth is they probably won’t because, after all, their stance is not consistent, like Chick-fil-A’s is, it is political.

I love the fact that the ACLU has come out in defense of Chick-fil-A on this one. While they don’t in any way agree with Cathy’s position they do defend his right to have an opinion, and to openly speak it, without fear of being prejudiced against. Interesting twist there eh? Good on ’em though for being consistent!

According to Webster’s:
TOLERANCE: Willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others.

So let’s be clear. Dan Cathy did NOT disrespect the beliefs or practices of the LGBT community. He simply commented that he didn’t think it was wise to disagree with God regarding marriage.

On the other hand Dan’s beliefs and practices have ABSOLUTELY been disrespected. and there are really only two responses that anyone who wants to defend that kind of attitude can make:

“Yeah, well I don’t care he’s bad.”
or
“Those beliefs aren’t worth respecting.

Both quite intolerant statements.

So what can we learn from Dan’s faux pas?

1. The “Tolerance” movement has ceased being about tolerance and its adherents have started more openly arguing that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a bigot. Which is quite bigoted really.

2. The person with the biggest microphone usually wins so be careful what you say in public. For those keeping score at home conservatives in general have smaller microphones these days.

3. The Christian perspective, while once mainstream in this country, is no longer even remotely fashionable and is leaning towards becoming quite unfashionable. That means Cristian folks don’t enjoy the same freedom of receptivity they once did. Get used to it and adjust.

Kudos to Dan for staying consistent. Kudos the the ACLU…never thought I’d say that…for doing likewise. Silly laughter in the direction of the mayors of Chicago and Boston while they publicly display their cranial rectal impaction.

Just to be clear I am not now, nor have I ever been a Chick-fil-A employee. (Although several attempts have been made.) I have, however, worked pretty extensively with CfA people and have found them to be excellent folks across the board. Believe me when I say they are not prejudiced, they’ll sell chicken to anyone!

All of this leads me to this question:
In today’s increasingly polarized political climate is true tolerance even possible?

You Are What You “Eat”

The events of the week here in Colorado Springs have been traumatic for a lot of people. The impact on the area will be felt for quite a long time. Of these things there is no doubt.

Having spent the last few days OUT of the area though I think I have experienced some immediate, tangible evidence of what we probably all already know. Our daily attitude can be, and for many IS, drastically shaped by the media we ingest.

Between our social media connections, email, texts, 24 hour news channels, tweets, grams, pins and pokes we’re bombarded by information and if we don’t turn it off from time to time it works like a hammer and chisel slowly shaping us into some sculpted form we may or may not have chose on our own.

Being in Southern California the last couple days took me out of the direct of influence of media about the fires here in Colorado.  Sure, CA has it’s own problems, but I was on a limited diet of media due to my schedule.

The mood that had pervasively taken over my psyche while I was here at home was decidedly lifted, even though circumstances at home hadn’t changed, my perspective was given a moments rest from the constant barrage of images and messages and I began to emerge from the funk I had been in.

As I watch our nation become more or more polarized around issues of politics, religion, and money I wonder if the constant hum of media in the background isn’t largely responsible. After all isn’t it the job of every new producer to turn molehills into mountains?

I’d like to suggest three practices, habits I’m going to try to build for myself, that I believe will help us take a few steps back from the brink that is eroding at our feet through constant media bombardment.

1. Disconnect from media inputs
Easy to say, harder to do. In this case though I don’t mean some sort of media fast for a few days. I mean regular scheduled intervals during the day where you just disconnect from media input for a minimum of three hours.

I choose that amount of time because I find that if I take a 3 hour flight somewhere my brain starts to think creatively on issues OTHER than what I’ve been hit with in media. It also cracks me up how fast people dive for their cell phones when a 3 hour flight hits the tarmac.

2. Develop a hobby
Yeah, sounds trite I know. What I strongly believe though is that when we engage in acts of creativity we turn on different parts of our brain. Rather than just analyzing information, chewing media stories down to the grisly bone, thumping away with the analytical side of our brains we need to engage the rest.

Developing a hobby that results in something tangible, a picture, a song, a poem, a cross-stitch, a doodle, a wood carving of a toothpick…leaves you with a reminder of the creative process. Sure, hobbies like running, biking, hiking etc are good but I’m after something that leaves me with that tangible evidence, that shareable fruit of my labors.

3. Dialogue with someone
This doesn’t mean argue and it doesn’t mean commiserate it means honest discussion about topics that interest you. Dialoguing broadens our perspective and opens up the possibility for new points of view. It also build relational bridges, far too many of which are being burned daily from what I can tell.

I really believe this combination can work as a prescription for changing moods and finding some relief from media created stress. I’ve gotten somewhat regular at 1 and 2 above. I need to practice 3 more often…any takers?

How much do you think media inputs effect your daily mood?

P.S.
Thanks to all those who’ve been praying for Colorado. The last few days have brought some stability, we’ll see how we go from here.

 

The Lost Art of Dialogue

I’m afraid my friends that we’ve gotten lost. Media in general and social media in particular is guiding us down the path of chemical dependance on the 140 character sound byte.

No wait, we don’t even need that anymore, we just click the “like” button…and then ask for a “don’t like” button. And don’t even get me started on texting (which doesn’t show up in spell check by the way). If we’re not careful we’ll soon frgt hw 2 uu vwls prprly.

How is it that with more access to more information than any three generations have had before now we seem to be less and less inclined toward discussion while at the same time more and more inclined to dismissive dogmatic certainties?  How is it that “our guy’s” statistics are surprisingly accurate while “those guy’s” statistics are always a lying mockery of the truth? Perhaps here we HAVE been most affected by the media. Ever notice how the Storm Troopers can’t seem to hit a thing with their blasters but Han Solo has a 75% hit rate?

In the interest of trying to halt this slide down the slippery slope into mindless sarcastic bashing allow me a few moments to bring to your attention three words:

1. Debate:
Some of the definitions include: To dispute or disagree about, To engage in argument or discussion, Argument or Controversy.

You see a debate is about one side trying to win. You win a debate by proving your point right, or more right, and the other side’s point wrong. A debate typically has a winner and a loser.

2. Diatribe:
Definition: a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism

Because a debate is in effect a contest with a winner and a loser they often disintegrate in a series of diatribes aimed at taking out the opponent emotionally as well as intellectually.  Not a bad tactic if you’re looking to win and particularly good if you want the other fellow to lose.

3. Dialogue:
Definition: an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.

Do you see the subtle difference here? In a debate you have one winner and one loser. In a dialogue the intent is to have no losers and all winners. The intent of dialogue is to bring about resolution to conflict that is mutually beneficial.

It’s no surprise we’ve landed here really, having forgotten what we once knew about dialogue. Ours is a capitalistic society. Capitalism thrives on competition. We’re taught to compete from the moment we play our first game of grade school kickball. We’ve become accustomed to, perhaps even programmed into, choosing sides.

But as Americans we’re all on the same side. Shoot, as humans we’re all on the same side. So shouldn’t we be looking to dialogue and resolve rather than debate and win?

Most debates are founded on three premises: declare, prove, debunk. Each side declares what they believe to be true, seeks to prove it, and seeks to debunk their opponent.

IF we are to re-discover the lost art of dialogue I think we need to learn again to begin from a different set of premises:

Agree
Dialogue starts with an agreement as to what it is we’re trying to solve or resolve. (Which I suppose literally could be said to mean “solve again”.) This is more difficult than it seems on the surface.

Take a nice controversial example like abortion. Tons of debate there yes? But it seems to me one side is arguing about rights while the other is arguing about life. Yes, I know the life guys are arguing about rights too, just for different folks.

But, what if the discussion started with trying to agree on what problem it is that abortion solves. Might different alternatives present themselves? Rather than argue we should allow it versus we should not what if the dialogue were about trying to determine if it is the best solution to a defined problem?

Agreement means we’re truly in agreement. We’re actually looking to come up with a mutually beneficial solution to the problem or issue. We’re not just agreeing on the surface for the sake of argument but willing to fight for the agreement rather than for our point to be won.

Assume
Yes, I know we were all taught never to assume. In this case though the assumption is that your counterpart in the dialogue has points, information, statistics, and suggestions that are equally as valid as yours. Assuming this serves to reinforce the agreement.

Also, the better you are at assuming brilliance (a phrase borrowed from an old friend) on the part of the other party the more likely you’ll be to listen to what they have to say, not in order to debunk it, but in order to find where you can reach agreement.

Persist
Dialogue easily slips into debate. When it does go back to the agreement, check your assumptions to see if they are still active as they should be, and persevere.

I used to work for a particularly ornery Brit. One of my favorites bosses of all time truth be told. Chris and I would sometimes get into HUGE shouting matches cross the table to the degree where once or twice people actually poked a head in the door and asked if everything was ok. At which point we laughed and said “Yes, we’re fine. We’re going to lunch in five minutes would you like to join us?”

Ours was a dialogue. A heated one to be sure. But we had agreement as to what we were trying to solve. We had deep mutual respect for one anothers brilliance and perspective, and we persevered. If only we as a country could figure out how to have less debate and more dialogue…who knows where we might once again go.

Where do you find it most difficult to have dialogue rather than debate? Why do you think that is so?