Dialogue should be an important component of lodge life. Without it, your lodge may have problems making decisions, creating and following through with events, elections, and floor work. Dialogue is using conversation to gain insight into other people’s lives and beliefs.
Thinking creatively with other people is the strength dialogue offers us in lodge. Dialogue happens when people practice sympathetic listening, curiosity, respect for all participants, and not being judgmental all work together to guide our conversations. Dialogue takes place between two people or a number of groups.
Dialogue is a conversation where all participants act as equals. Many other types of communication like discussion, debate, or argument involves a power relationship between people. In an argument or debate, someone has to win. Dialogue seeks to prevent this power dynamic from happening. In dialogue we seek insight; there is no need to win when seeking insight. Insight is defined as “the power or act of seeing into a situation” or “the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively” (Merriam-Webster). Neither of these definitions mention anything about “winning” a debate or argument.
Below is a table that will help you gain insight into the difference between dialogue and dichotomy in conversation:
|DIALOGUE (seeks insight among lodge members and should be encouraged)||DICHOTOMY (seeks division among lodge members and should be avoided)|
|Curiosity, discovery, disclosure||Manipulation, secrecy, persuasion|
|Cooperation, respect||Criticism, dismissal, competition|
|Listening to understand||Listening to respond and rebut|
|New ideas, creating, learning, thinking||Ignoring, defending old postures, thoughts and assumptions|
|Reality is our common ground, let’s seek it together||Reality is what I say it is, listen to me. Attacking the person|
|Shared inquiry. Seeking strengths, and possibilities, in each other’s ideas.||Searching for flaws and weaknesses in the other’s ideas. Judgment.|
|I can learn from you||My way or the highway|
|Trust and safety||Displaying power, coercion|
|Seeking an inclusive viewpoint||Advocating a one sided point of view|
Having dialogue requires some ground rules. These ground rules aren’t required, of course, but you can choose the ones that best fit your situation. Below, the term “party” refers to those groups or individuals involved in the dialogue. Remember that dialogue may take place between two or more people or between a number groups.
- A party should re-express another party’s position clearly, fairly, and vividly so the other party may wish to say “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
- Both parties should list points of agreement. Do this each time the parties involved agree on anything. Even if it’s the temperature of the room.
- Both parties should mention anything learned from one another during the dialogue. Only then is a party permitted to say so much as a word of commentary based on their analysis of the other party’s statements.
- A party making comments must support them by providing more information if the other party asks them to. Focus on facts.
- A party’s analysis of comments must relate specifically to the statements made by the other party. Don’t attempt to change the subject and divert attention to another subject. Example: “Saul missed his shot with the spear.” “Well what about the time YOU missed your shot?” The second comment is incorrect in that it tries to shift the argument to “your shot” rather than examining “Saul’s shot.”
- A party may defend their comments only using supporting information specifically related to that position. See number 5.
- A party must not make statements that are insufficiently clear and ambiguous. Be precise.
Dialogue requires the important skills of listening to understand, suspending judgment, respecting everyone, and speaking your own voice.
Listening to understand other people is vital to dialogue. You need to hear their words and think about the ideas they’re trying to get across. What emotions might they be feeling and what can you learn from this? Is it possible the information they have could change your perspectives? One can’t simply sit while the other party speaks and ignore the points they are attempting to make.
Not allowing your own perspectives to get in the way of listening to others is called suspending judgment. While listening to the other party, postpone your ideas and “truths” and explore doubt. If you have the desire to interrupt, that’s a clear sign you haven’t suspended judgment. Try not to agree or disagree with the other party as they communicate with you.
Obviously respecting everyone involved requires acknowledging the other party’s dignity and worth. Just because you may have a different perspective doesn’t mean the other party and their opinion is worthless. Try not to blame people, and try to assume they have positive motives and intent. Also stay aware of the tendency to personally disrespect the other party.
Speaking your own voice is difficult for many people. But, be patient with yourself and gather your thoughts before you speak. Allow cold deliberation to replace an emotional outburst. Avoid sarcasm, barbs, attacks, and insults. Share your insight to advance the dialogue.
Remember that dialogue is the only target here. No one should be trying to win because no one should be debating.
Facts and factual analysis are important to bring to the table during dialogue. Facts can be assessed and verified through the correct use of evidence gathering and reasoning. Factual statements declare what is, and careful researchers agree on the answer. Facts are not the same as opinion. Facts include: the boiling point of water is 100 degrees centigrade, gold is denser than lead, and a teaspoon size of a neutron star weighs six billion tons.
So give these hints a try while trying to solve problems with others, whether in or out of lodge!
Scott Moye is an award-winning history educator and author of the book Think Like An Odd Fellow, Wisdom and Self-Improvement In 21st Century Odd Fellowship . He grew up on a cotton, soybean, and rice farm and is currently a museum worker. Hobbies include: old house restoration, writing, amateur radio, Irish traditional music, archery, craft beer, old spooky movies, and street performance. He is a member of Marshall Lodge #1, in Marshall, Arkansas, and a founder of Heart In Hand Blog.