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John Backman

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From John...

Not long ago, I ran across a blog post that provoked me. The writer’s assertions struck a raw nerve that brought up a few ghosts from my past. I felt compelled to respond.

The first draft of my response felt angry and haughty. I needed to breathe deeply, approach it from a more dialogic place in my heart, and tone down the language. So I did that, and the final result was OK.

Still, I was disappointed in myself. I’ve been on this journey with God for almost 40 years, on the monastic path for seven. Shouldn’t I have stopped getting defensive by now?

Alas, that’s not the way the spiritual life works. At least not usually.

Usually, the spiritual life is more of a one-step-at-a-time affair. Along the way, we cultivate habits of the heart. They take a lifetime to grow. Meanwhile, the old habits keep popping up. Over time, fewer of them pop up, and less often. We grow more into the habits of the heart that speak of God. But the old ways are always there.

The “way of dialogue”—which is itself a kind of spiritual path—is the same. We don’t walk it until we reach a state of perfection, and then dialogue from some lofty perch of perfect enlightenment. Rather, we dialogue all along the way, and to each dialogue we bring our vastly imperfect selves.

That simple truth calls us to be gentle with ourselves, in the same way that dialogue calls us to be gentle with others. Clearly, accepting my own lack of progress is not my strong suit. But when I can do it, I am in a better position to welcome others and hear their perspectives in authentic dialogue.


From http://www.dialogueventure.com/category/definitions/

If we cultivate the inner attitudes that facilitate dialogue—openness, humility, a passion for truth seeking, a willingness to risk—we will be ready for these chance encounters. We will naturally respond with an open spirit and a listening ear, no matter what comes our way.

This is even more important when it comes to our adversaries, because they set off the automatic fight-or-flight response within us. As we cultivate “the spirit of dialogue” within ourselves, we will notice that response replaced with something else: curiosity. “How dare you believe that?” is replaced with “How did you come to that?” “I don’t want to discuss it” yields to “Tell me your thinking.”

Dialogue: an intentional, shared exploration of an issue, whose purpose is to deepen mutual understanding if not move closer to the reality of the issue, and whose structure requires participants to lay aside their preconceived notions and participate with a clear mind and a listening heart.

Let’s unpack this a little:

  • Dialogue is intentional. In this sense, it’s not quite the same as conversation. While conversations can dwell on a particular topic for a while, there is no agreed-upon focus and no specific goal in mind. As a result, they can meander from topic to topic. Is that good and healthy for the human spirit? Absolutely. But it’s not dialogue, which has a set purpose, i.e.:
  • Dialogue is a shared exploration. In this sense, it’s also not persuasion, or proselytizing, or anything similar. Unlike those modes of communication, dialogue requires us to assume that we don’t have the answer—and that we can work with our fellow dialogists to get closer to it. However…
  • Dialogue doesn’t always help us move closer to the reality of the issue. It certainly can, of course. But even the dialogues that appear to get us nowhere can hold inestimable value: drawing us into mutual acceptance, clearing away old stereotypes, and even assuaging the loneliness that is part and parcel of the human condition.
  • Dialogue requires a clear mind and a listening heart. This is where spirituality plays its indispensable role. By allowing the Divine to shape us through spiritual practices (like regular prayer and meditation), we become more like the Divine: more compassionate, more self-giving, more aware of ultimate reality and our place in it. Our sacred cows and vested interests melt away. Our inner transformation makes us not only larger in spirit, but better able to hear and share in dialogue.