Conversation is in trouble.
People have been brought up to express themselves
rather than to exchange ideas.
– Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
Guy Trebay offered a very interesting commentary on our times in his November 29th article in the New York Times, “Guess Who Isn’t Coming to Dinner.” While he was primarily talking about the lost art of the dinner party, the line that jumped out at me was actually the above quote from Judith Martin, better known to some as Miss Manners.
Judith Martin speaks here of conversation in its highest form – an exchange of ideas that leads to new discovery and illumination for all participants. When was the last time you truly engaged with another person or group of people like that?
In Transformational Presence work, we actually call this level of exchange “dialogue” as something distinct from what “conversation” has become in our everyday lives. In most typical conversations, there is usually an agenda, even if that agenda is just to fill the silence. The conversation is usually made up of each person sharing well-formed opinions, beliefs, and ideas. The talk is usually about the past or the future, rarely about right here right now. Even if we are talking about something that is happening right now, chances are we are talking about it based on what we already think about it, our past experiences, or what we project might happen in the future based on our view of things.
In our current culture, conversation has become a vehicle for making sure our ideas are heard – for having the last word, especially if something is said that we don’t agree with. Deepak Chopra’s words, “Ninety-five percent of the noise in the world comes from people defending their positions,” always make me chuckle. Yet there’s also truth in those words! We can get very attached to our beliefs, desires, and opinions!
Dialogue, on the other hand, is about discovery. It’s grounded in the eternal moment – breaking through the bonds of time and space to a level of awareness where there is no past, present, or future. It’s just an eternal now. Dialogue is about tapping into what wants to be said rather than what do I want to say, or immediately judging a statement or thought based on whether or not you agree with it. It’s about stepping beyond agree or disagree, right or wrong, what you think we know already, or what you’ve been taught, and entering into a space of openness and non-judgment – a space where you allow something different than you’ve considered before to show itself to you on its own terms.
Dialogue is about being willing to listen without interruption, and then discover what wants to be said through you in response. It’s not about “having the answers,” but rather about letting new insights and levels of understanding unfold. It can almost feel like a stream of consciousness experience at times. You’ve probably had the experience of being asked a deep question and, at first thought, not having an answer. Yet for whatever reason you began to speak in response to the question and were amazed at what came out of your mouth!
Imagine if you could communicate in this way more of the time. This is the kind of energy we’re talking about – allowing yourself to be a vehicle for a greater wisdom to come through.
You may even reach a level where it feels like Consciousness is having a dialogue with itself. The participants are just vehicles through which Consciousness can speak. One person speaks uninterrupted as the others take it in, feel the energy, ride the wave of what is being said, both through the words and underneath the words. And then when that person is finished for the moment, someone else picks up the dialogue by letting the same energy continue to express through them.
When Consciousness is having a dialogue with itself, there will often be a consistency to the energy as it speaks through different people. Yet there will also be distinctive qualities that come through each individual and the way the message is expressed. Consciousness moves through each of us in unique ways. We each are able to perceive a particular part of the greater message, but rarely can any one person grasp all perspectives at once. That’s why it takes all of us together to discover the full truth of anything.
There’s nothing wrong with conversation. There are times when it’s appropriate – it’s light, we’re just connecting and having fun, it’s moving things along. Yet there are other times – perhaps the more important times – when it’s time for dialogue – tapping into a greater wisdom that wants to be expressed, listening for a deeper insight or understanding that wants to be shared, opening to the possibility that there is another very valid opinion, belief, or approach.
In doing transformational work, it is important to recognize when it is time to move beyond conversation into dialogue. Dialogue will often take you straight into the deep and powerful work that is waiting to be done, yet it will usually happen in a gentle, compassionate, and grace-full way. The dialogue process itself will often do the “work.” Our job as transformational leaders or coaches is simply to create the container that allows the dialogue to occur and Consciousness to speak.
It occurs to me that this whole idea of conversation and dialogue is also particularly poignant on a personal level as we head into the holiday season – a time when we come together with family and friends and often talk a lot yet don’t really hear each other very well. It’s easy to get lost in all of the hustle and bustle and forget to just pause and “be” with one another. Being present with one another and truly connecting beyond the holiday expectations and obligations can bring moments of the heart that stay with you for months and perhaps even years to come.
During the next few weeks, whether in your work or your personal life, look for opportunities to move from conversation to dialogue. Look for opportunities to learn and discover something beyond what you or the other person or persons know. Invite the possibility that you really could experience Consciousness having a dialogue with itself. And see what magic unfolds.
P.S. If you have a copy of my latest book, Create A World That Works, you can learn more about dialogue and deep listening in Chapter 10 on pages 85 – 93. If you don’t have the book, you can order it here.
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