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Do we teach dialogue?

In the July 28 issue of the Sunday Examiner, the diocese of Hong Kong published an urgent call for earnest dialogue and responsible action on the clash between various factions supporting the political status quo and those calling for universal suffrage.

While the diocese acknowledges the values of democracy, as supported extensively by the writings of successive popes and the social teaching of the Church, and does note that civil disobedience can be a valid political tactic under certain conditions, it concentrates its attention on the lack of dialogue between groups holding adverse views.

Politics is of its very nature confrontational. It plays out its tensions through debate, with people presenting their views and seeking to justify their validity through coherent argument.

However, what is coherent to one may not seem to be that way to another. This is the arena where dialogue is called for.

But dialogue by nature is not argumentative and not confrontational. It simply means listening to opposite opinions, usually without comment and trying to come to an understanding of why others can hold such a view.

While in itself it is not a single-pronged solution to conflict, it does contribute to mutual understanding and gives an insight into the root causes of disagreement.

But the bottom line is that it requires deep respect.

Few societies are good at dialogue, which has led to serious tensions over a plethora of issues ranging from politics, religion, ethnic origin, national interests and family.

In addition, few societies educate their young people in the art of dialogue. Mostly, schools and educational institutions teach young people to express their views and underpin them academically and logically in order to give them confidence in their own opinions and equip them to express them coherently.

While this is certainly a necessary skill, in terms of resolving personal and communal conflict, it may not be the only one needed.

Dialogue leads to listening to the other from the point of view of how to refute their arguments and debate with them, without necessarily having any understanding of the fears, prejudices and desires of the other person or group.

Dialogue is a way of listening on a different level from debate. It requires a refined listening skill, but over and above that, it also requires a deep respect for the humanity of those with whom we may disagree.

It builds a different type of knowledge base among those involved in a dispute or difference of opinion and, while it may not be able to resolve the matter by itself, it can lead to a more knowledgeable debate that can reveal a lot more hidden agendas than simple confrontation and get a lot closer to the root causes disputes.

The Occupy Central movement is seen by the diocese as arising out of the frustration that builds when voices are not listened to or, even worse, responded to in a brush off or demeaning manner.

Dialogue leads to a higher level of conversation as it demands careful and respectful listening.

A government that stonewalls every aspiration brought forward by the people with the same facile response, no matter how erudite or coherent the people’s expression may be, cannot be said to be listening or speaking with them respectfully. It is not dialogue.


Perhaps a bit more education on the power of dialogue during formative years may contribute a lot to our political conversations. JiM