The following is a quote of a post I made to an old friend’s blog. It arises from an extended conversation we had been having about ‘Reason, Insight and the Nature of Conversation in the Blogosphere‘.
My friend would not recognise the title I’ve given to my reflections since I’ve just made it up, nor might he endorse this characterisation of our discussion or any comments I make about it. He had commented that we should end our discussion since we didn’t seem to be moving towards consensus but were merely restating entrenched positions. I’m happy about that and although I will inform him of this post as a courtesy I don’t expect a response.
Our positions derive from who we are, from our experience, from the way we define ourselves, and from the definitions we associate with particular terms. These things do not change easily.
In discussion my object is not to persuade or to be persuaded nor necessarily to arrive at consensus. I seek not simply to state my position but to deepen, examine, clarify and refine that position in the light of another’s understanding.
If there is consensus it is at the level of mutual respect for differing interpretations and visions or at the level of agreement to work for common objectives regardless of differences in perspective.
In the course of a dialogue I ask myself questions such as what does this assertion mean to me? How does it relate to my own premises and understandings? How do I feel emotionally about it? What is my reaction and resistance? FOR ME it is out of these questions and considerations that learning happens and that insight arises.
The question of circularity in discourse is something through which insight and learning may arise. Is circularity necessarily inferior and less conducive to insight than linearity? If discussion serves the deepening of my own understanding through allowing me to explore and express that understanding then I consider it worthwhile regardless of the judgements of others on that matter and regardless of any judgement as to whether we have ‘gotten anywhere’.
Having re-read this. I can see that while it does pretty accurately state my position and concerns around discussion it’s incomplete. What I realise I have said is that I am invested in certain positions and see things from those positions and commitments. While I do examine those positions I have to ask if that focusing on my own positions and framework blinds me to all that is being said in a dialogue. Essentially is the past blinding me to the fullness of the present?
Often in dialogue we (I’m not sure how much I do it .. it’s easier to recognise in others) are waiting to make our point and select out of what is being said the bits we want to respond to while ignoring other stuff that might be important or even contain the real substance of what is being said.