Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dialogue and Deliberation

HowardW, a brilliant jazz musician, dear friend, and one of the most clear-sighted, patient, compassionate human beings I have ever met, once regularly took on the right-wing ideologues at Thom Hartmann's online forums. I often marveled at how he not only always kept his cool but also could actually get some of the most troll-like posters to talk out of the box. I knew it took more than just playing "nice" or being open to those with whom he disagreed. However, it took me a long time before I actually asked how he did it.

That was when Howard told me about David Bohm and Dialogue. He sent me a number of links, which provided me with an introduction to the subject. I cannot say that I ever got into it as deeply as I would have liked, let alone learned the discipline and applied it, but it seems like now is a good time to examine it more carefully. For anyone else who may be interested, listed below are some of the links that are still active.

But first, let me highlight one of the authors Howard recommended, Richard Moore, he wrote Escaping the Matrix — How we the people can change the world. Here are a few quotes from the Moore's website about the book:
Our Harmonization Imperative

Our societies and political systems are characterized by competition and struggle among cultural factions and political parties. When we try to change this system by forming adversarial political movements we are playing into this game – a game rigged so that elites always win. If we really want to change the system, we need to learn how to come together as humans, moving beyond the ideological structures that have been created to divide us from one another. We are all in this together, and a better world for one is a better world for all. It’s not about winning, nor really even about agreement: it’s about working together in pursuit of our common interests.

The dynamics of harmonization

Our usual models of discussion and deliberation reflect the adversarial nature of our society generally. We argue for our position over the other position: one side wins, the other loses, or we settle for a compromise – and the underlying conflicts remain unresolved. Harmonization is about a different kind of dialog, based on respectful listening, and aimed at developing solutions that take into account everyone’s concerns. This kind of dialog can be readily facilitated in any group of people, and it is an ancient human tradition, capable of transforming conflict into creative synergy. We the People are capable of working together wisely and harmoniously.”

Here are also some of Moore's reflections on how he came upon the ideas of for the book:
My studies and dialogs since 1998 have been devoted to this question. I've considered election reform, media reform, public education, personal transformation, political movements, revolutionary movements, third parties, and indeed I've looked at every way social change has been brought about throughout history. None of those have ever achieved the goal because they have always led to some form, new or old, of hierarchical rule by elites. As long as people are divided into factions, interest groups, or political parties, we will be controlled by the mechanism of divide-and-rule. (Before so-called `democracy' and so-called `socialism' came along, we were simply ruled by force under kings and emperors).

By this process of elimination, I came to the conclusion that we must, somehow, learn how to come together and find inclusive consensus at the grassroots level. I was inspired by Carolyn Chute, who said, "There is no left and right, only up and down. All the fat cats at the top having a good time, and the rest of us down here struggling to survive." In my email, I began using the signature, "We are all in this together." But I didn't know any means by which "the rest of us at the bottom" could find our common identity and purpose. How could the fundamentalist sit down with the tree-hugger? (so to speak) ….”

And then, fortuitously, I found myself in a meeting which, like many meetings, fell apart in misunderstanding, debate, frustration, etc. Someone stepped forward and began facilitating. Within seconds she enabled a new space to come into existence, a space where we were able to really listen to one another, a space where the people-as-fellow-humans were primary and the dialog an experience of shared discovery. I then began studying the technology of facilitation and the results achieved by facilitated processes, much of that being in the corporate context, and some in the social or activist context. It turns out that the technology works, and the results on-the-ground have been amazing. . . .

Here are the links to other resources:
About Dialogue at

“Dialogue, a Proposal” by David Bohm, Donald Factor, and Peter Garrett

“For Truth, Try Dialogue” by David Bohm

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

The Dialogue Group at

Selected Websites on Dialogue
Also these groups and online forums at
The World Cafe

Civic Reflection

EveryDay Democracy

Public Conversations Project

National Issues Forum

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