“Faith has a contempt for fear and is therefore risk-taking. In monologue risk taking involves deep trust of the self, but little risk with others. As alienation from others decreases we pass through the stages from technical to resistant to confronting communication. When we risk involvement with another we enter into dialogue with him.” from Monologue to Dialogue by Brown and Keller, p. 206.
Faith requires a genuine acceptance of self embedded into the divine. We thrash about in our craziness, continually reeling in and out of our sense of ‘enough-ness’. Keller and Brown emphasize how, depending upon language as we must, we construct a life out of ‘abstract values by which we direct ourselves’. I recently had a local congressman tell me how ‘divine Providence’ to him means listening and voting according to ‘his values’. I didn’t confront him on how his values were vastly different than mine. Yet, this is where the real work is:
“We rest our lives on our values, the vaporous wings of a prayer. These values must be confirmed by others or they die and we die. Research has demonstrated time and again that each of us is unique in our perceptions, there being no more alikeness among friends than among strangers or enemies. Friends are united and confirmed in their common ideals. Society exists in common aspirations. Therefore dialogue between people both develops and depends upon trustful openness among people in search of common ideals and hopes.” p. 206
So what happens when the closed mind of authority refuses to listen to those of difference? We have seen that a fire can burn when great despair is mixed with faint hope. When we refuse to listen to one another, locked in our notions of ‘right values’, we rob opportunity from others’ participation and create conditions for conflict and revolution. In an article entitled “The Rhetoric of Confrontation”, Scott and Smith describe the underlying feelings as:
- We are dead.
- We can be reborn.
- We have the stomach for the fight, you don’t.
- We are united in a vision of the future.
These feelings are what feed revolution. As humans, we desperately seek to be heard. Yet, caught in our notions of greed, ego, fear, and a sense of separateness, we consciously and unconsciously ignore those who appear to have different values from us. Yet, the human story says our real peace is found in our courage to listen to one another in ‘trustful openness among people in search of common ideals and hopes.’ This mission of faith would certainly change the climate in the realms of politics/economics and religion/spirituality.
In faith, surrendered from fear through divine Providence, we can let down our obstacles to dialogue. We can explore ‘common ideals and hopes’ with flexibility and open minds. We could move from the ‘win/lose’ mentality of monologue and debate to collaboration. We could move to meaningful dialogue when we find real intent beyond our notions of ‘thinking’ we’re right. Brown and Keller speak to the language of confidence, noting how dialogue may sound weak on the surface in order to insure accommodation from the other party. Yet, language that is firm and inflexible, on the surface sounds like it comes from strength, allowing only one interpretation.
“…it is the flexible man, seeing the possibility for several or many interpretations, who is strong, strong enough to accommodate, perhaps, his less flexible conversant.
When we are too sure of our words we are not listening to them or the words of others. We are listening to the fears which are demanding firm and legal definitions. Legal language is abstract, logical, and technically correct. But the language of dialogue is spontaneous, free, noncritical, tentative, reflective, searching—based on faith and tolerance. When people meet in dialogue, their language is not an analysis of the rights and privileges of each other, but a mutual participation of the lives involved.” p. 204
How does this relate to immediate events? A couple days ago a worker was released from a local printing company. He proceeded to shoot and kill his boss and several co-workers, eventually taking his own life. I would suspect this man reached a point of ‘not mattering’ that broke his spirit. It would be interesting to examine his last weeks of life and the communications he had at the work place that led to such disaster. I suspect there was what Paul Newman coined in a famous movie, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I’m sure that today there are several employers taking greater care in dealing with their downsizing, doing what they can to listen to employees they may have to let go.
The big international news showed the leader of Israel calling for forced action against Iran for it’s failure to stop development of a nuclear weapon. The rhetoric of conflict was at it’s peak when he literally drew an explosive red line, calling for military action. Common sense would ask why they should stop if Israel is not willing to give up their nuclear weapons. An open commitment to dialogue would result in a wisdom circle in search of ‘common ideals and hopes’. The first question would be, “Who here wants to end the world through nuclear war?” Or perhaps, in faith, we could find common ground for the respect of life and the reduction of suffering? These dialogue, wisdom circles could be carried on international media so we could really see the intent of those in power. We all know that when it comes to nuclear weapons, no one wins, yet we carry our rhetoric on the assumption that someone will. This is perhaps the most extreme notion of monologue lunacy.
In a couple days we’ll have another presidential debate. Both candidates will set out with the intent to defeat the other. The set up is designed to create monologue and a refusal to listen. Yet, the highest office in the land necessarily depends upon the skills and capacity to listen with flexibility and openness. We’ll hear the media spend days in meaningless speculation about who won, in effect pronouncing who’s better at fighting with words. Any notions of trust or faith are removed from the table as the polarization of the country increases.
Perhaps our most immediate need for dialogue is found in recent religious turmoil brought about by a film denigrating the Muslim faith. This is a time where our leaders must show greater courage in stepping forward with flexibility and skill in speaking to those of multiple faith. The notion that one particular group has the ‘right’ faith/myth has been the cause for the most violence throughout the ages. Politicians steeped and trained as attorneys who focus on monologue and win/lose paradigms desperately need the help of spiritual leaders who can effectively speak to interfaith issues without inflaming any particular group for their values. Our real security will come from a larger faith, one that has contempt for fear and the courage to dig deeper in respect and willingness to offer mutual participation for the lives involved.
The greatest antidote to unhappiness and anxiety is gratitude. When asked, “Gratitude for what?”, Brother David Steindl Rast replied, “For the opportunity to participate.” The key to harmony is to allow participation. The fuel for violence is to take it away. Monologue, words of certainty and claims of ‘right’ oppress the process. Dialogue, in faith and contempt for fear, steward us to a better life for all with least harm.