Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Open a line of dialogue

If you are a student of theoretical physics, you are no doubt familiar with David Bohm. If you are a student of contemporary politics, you may not be; though the Bohm ‘dialogue theory’ could have tremendous impact on us this election year.
Bohm, a British philosopher and physicist who studied under Oppenheimer to contribute to the creation of the atomic bomb; who worked with Karl Pribram on the neuroscience of the holonomic model of the brain while also explaining the philosophical state of humanity, is credited with a unique description of the term ‘dialogue.’

Bohm interpreted this human interaction as a multifaceted process that assists people in exploring their perceptions and assumptions while deepening communication and understanding.
According to author Terry Bacon, “Bohm felt that many of the world’s problems occurred because people talk at cross-purposes, don’t examine either assumptions, are unaware of how their perceptions influence their thought processes, and try to prevail in conversations by imposing their ‘truth’ on others.”
Sound familiar in this era of high stakes politics?
The difficulty with dialogue is that we are trained from an early age to be right. What becomes increasingly evident during times of political infighting with the sheer volume of pontificating pundits, is that being right will be rewarded and being wrong will be punished. What makes dialogue about political issues difficult for most people, is that they feel like they’re giving something up.
When physicist Bohm conceptualized thought as a “system of sustained incoherence,” he could have been referring to either the Rush Limbaugh “ditto-heads” of the airwaves or the Nancy Pelosi pronouncements from the podium.
It seems increasingly true that on both sides of the partisan spectrum, we are unable to suppress the urge to be right and to prove others wrong. Though I know of not one paid political commentator ever named to a Cabinet level position, or even recommended for Presidential Press Secretary, they continue to incite emotion that makes true dialogue completely impossible.
Dialogue requires “listening without reloading.” It’s about suspending judgment, not digging in; it’s about exploring ideas and being open to both the journey and the outcome. Unfortunately, we have been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to snarl at the first mention of the ‘opposing’ political party, as though there’s not a remote possibility of a single shared value from that moment on.
Far from the world of theoretical physics, fashion designer Kenneth Cole offers this bit of first hand political wisdom, “I’ve come to learn that the best time to debate family members is when they have food in their mouths.”
How do we make the leap from a threatening ‘debate’ mind-set, to an expanding ‘dialogue’ mind-set? Well, there’s an ‘anti-blog’ website I highly recommend called, A Civil Disagreement .com. It’s a site for “civilized discussions by regular people,” with the caption, “Dedicated to the idea that regular Americans have something of value to contribute.”
I love their format. It has a monthly topic question, offers some facts and thoughtful considerations, followed by the Conservative Response, Liberal Response and Alternative Response. Then they preview next month’s and future topics, in order to give the reader time to actually reflect rather than react.
During the next few weeks before the Presidential election, I challenge you to let the candidates’ voices be heard above the pundits. If it isn’t McCain or Obama talking, turn it off…if it isn’t the official website of the two candidates, don’t go there. Ironically, most of us know more information about the ‘opponent’s’ philosophy and intentions than that of our ‘own’ candidate.
Listening to and surrounding ourselves with affiliated groups or with local political clubs, teams or blogs that mirror our beliefs won’t make us more informed or smarter voters. I understand how desperate it might feel to those who believe Obama’s Presidency will result in a socialistic redistribution of wealth, or that Palin, who has less executive experience than Mayor Marty Blum, is a heartbeat or bullet away from Commander in Chief, but if dialogue doesn’t replace denigration, this country will implode.
What would grow our democracy more than arguing our predetermined political points, would be to register people to vote, then model the meaning of participation for these new voters through rare, respectful and intense listening; the basis for Bohm’s Theory of Dialogue. Perhaps C.C. Mehta sums it up best, “Let the ideas clash, but not the hearts.”

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