• Claire Barham

Dialogue (Part 2) - Deep Conversations & Compassion

Updated: May 10

In this episode, we explore how to steward dialogue well in important, deep conversations.

We laid out the different settings these conversations can happen in, which led to a discussion about the good, bad, and ugly sides of political dialogue and social media arguments, and how to cope when we have to have these hard conversations in less-than-ideal circumstance.

Helpful Terms and Links

  • Dialogue - Finding ___* through talking (*logic, meaning, ideas etc.)

  • Rhetoric - The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

"Deep Talks"

Most people experience a desire from a young age to engage in deep conversations. “Deep talks'' are associated with sleepovers and camping trips with friends. In other words, they’re conversations that are vulnerable with people we’re close to.

Once you’ve hit it off in a meaningful way with someone you’re close to, it's hard to go back to small talk. Important conversations are valuable, life-giving, and sort of addicting. But it can be hard to come by both the people and circumstances necessary to dive into an important conversation.

We have to talk about important things with people nearly every day of our lives; most of those conversations aren’t going to have the ideal set up. Deep conversations vary between feeling extremely safe, to heated and argumentative, and they can happen in person, on a phone call, through texting, or on social media.

The quality of these conversions decreases down the line, because the communication cycle is so complex, and it gets harder and harder the more removed the medium is from face-to-face dialogue.

Our challenge is how to cultivate thoughtful conversations that steward language well, when the circumstances are less than ideal.

A quote from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre reminds us that, "With the loss of the subtlety, clarity, and reliability of language, we become more vulnerable to crude exercises of power."

Political Rhetoric

That quote led us to a conversation about the way we use dialogue in politics. The typical definition of rhetoric is the packaging ideas into symbols and signs, but political rhetoric is a set of ideas that are triggered by certain words and phrases. Political rhetoric allows us to shortcut the nuance of language so that we can easily sort people’s words and opinions into a binary system. While this can be helpful, it also is a reduction of the usefulness of language. The more we lean into these premade assumptions, the less we check our own assumptions, and the more clarity and reliability we lose.

An example of this is the presidential debates in the fall of 2020. The American public saw such careless use of words in those debates that most people in the U.S., no matter party affiliation, could agree on how bad the dialogue in the presidential debates were.

It is significant that the whole country noticed and was alarmed at the poor use of language by their prospective leaders. The misuse of language actually causes pain on both the individual and national level.

Social Media

This conversation about dialogue and politics led us to ask, is it ever worth it to try and engage in meaningful dialogue on social media? There are so many obstacles that stand in our way, like undefined terms, the inability to determine the tone of the person you’re talking to, and the fact that it is often a useless battle to try to change someone’s mind online. We base our beliefs off of our experiences, not our actual knowledge. So trying to debate with someone online can be a non-starter, because we aren’t capable of knowing their backgrounds and approaching them from a place of compassion.

In order to empathize with the person you’re engaging with, you have to live vicariously through their perspective. Get in their shoes. Cultivate compassion. That is how we need to engage with people we disagree with. Maybe that can happen online, but important conversations with people who you truly know and love will lend themselves to compassion more easily.

While it is complicated that so many ideas are endlessly shared on social media, it is also beautiful that social media provides a way to show pieces of your own world to everyone else. The idea of common understanding is a thread throughout this whole topic; the more we’re exposed to the stories of others, the more we can cultivate brand new forms of compassion, and hear, teach, and learn from one another in new ways.