“Those who say they are ‘dialogued out’ are actually tired of no real discourse.” Daniel Yankelovich
How do we have the conversations needed now in a way that honours differences while transforming them into progress on issues that are of fundamental importance in today’s world?
“I’m Right and You’re An Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse” is the riveting title of a book written by James Hoggan with many contributors. As I have been reading it, the contribution our work with Worldview Intelligence is making is becoming increasingly evident. Worldview Intelligence changes the nature of conversations and public discourse, even – or especially – when the stakes are high and views on issues have become polarized, and we are ready to do more of this work.
In Chapter 1: Like Ships in the Night, contributor Daniel Yankelovich talks about the differences between debate, dialogue and advocacy. He says advocacy is a dominant mode of communication in public discourse right now. It is about trying to sell something or persuade someone that your point of view, position or solution is the correct one, maybe even the only one. This can become an imposition of worldviews where the only one that really “counts” is the advocate’s.
An imposition of a worldview is an act of violence. At a minimum it dismisses or overrides another’s experiences and ideas and shuts down the space and opportunity for many contributions. In the worst case it forces another to live under the rules or worldview of the imposer.
The differences between debate and dialogue are illustrated in the following table. I particularly appreciate the statement that those who say they are ‘dialogued out’ are actually tired of no real discourse. Everyone is talking or even yelling and screaming at each other, but nobody is listening. In particular, it is often people who are part of a dominant worldview who are unable or unwilling to imagine there could exist a very different perspective or that someone else’s experience could be fundamentally different than their own. AND that the differing worldview has value and contributions to offer.
|Assumes we have the right answer||Assumes we all have a piece of the puzzle and can craft a solution together|
|Defends assumptions||Reveals assumptions|
|Criticizes the views of others||Re-examines all positions, including our own|
|About seeing weakness in other’s positions or views||About searching for strength and value in others’ concerns|
|Advocates own views, dismisses views and experiences of others||Willingness to listen, pay attention and suspend judgment|
|Wants others to come to their way of seeing things||Looks for common ground, meets in that place|
**Adapted from “Like Ships in the Night”, Chapter 1 with Daniel Yankelovich in I’m Right and You’re An Idiot
On the world stage, we are experiencing a time when differences are being stoked and amplified. It is becoming harder to find the points of connection to learn and imagine something fresh, new and constructive. Especially for deeply entrenched issues like climate change, racism, sexism, sexual orientation discrimination and deeply divided politics. Good dialogue is not only hard to find, it is becoming increasingly an imperative.
Debate is combative. It assumes we have the right answer and in arguing for it we become required to defend our position and our assumptions – even assumptions we may not have been aware we were holding. It is about seeing the weaknesses in other people’s perspectives and criticizing their views, which often becomes criticizing the person.
We come to dialogue from a very different internal posture than how we come to debate. We assume we all have a piece of the puzzle. It becomes important to bring curiosity, set aside judgment and really listen to what another person is trying to express, even beyond the words, to listen from a place of open heart and open spirit. It allows that all experiences and perspectives have validity – our own and others. It searches for the strength and value in all the perspectives, looking for the common ground or points of connection that create the opportunity to advance issues of collective concern. Inviting all the voices creates the possibility for generative space and new solutions.
Yankelovich says dialogue is not an arcane, esoteric or intellectual exercise but is practical and accessible and it is needed when values and frameworks are not shared. The challenge is that there are very few frameworks out there that can offer this exploration of differing perspectives that do not assume a position that one idea or one approach is better or more valid than another.
Worldview Intelligence changes all of that and we have seen it happen time and time again. The framework for exploration is value neutral. It makes no assumptions about the other person or group but takes them as they are. It provides a language and structure to understand where someone else is coming from. It is not built on a fancy, complicated system but rather is an elegantly simple way of entering the exploration. It is not a system that helps people do what they already do but better. It changes the way we enter the conversation, which changes the conversation.
It invites each individual or group to reflect on their own worldview, how it was shaped, how they have come to see and experience the world or a particular issue the way they do. Then it offers the opportunity to share what people are discovering or articulating, sometimes for the first time, in a way that honours each reflection and expands the collective worldview experience in the discussion.
The Worldview Intelligence framework is a structured approach to exploring individual and collective assumptions, beliefs and value systems and it is effective in many different kinds of explorations. The explorations generate new insights, innovative thinking, different conversations and new connections. A deeper understanding of worldview and how worldviews are developed leads to understanding them. Individuals and groups then have a language and a way of growing skill to work with different and multiple worldviews. this is essential to creating a fundamentally different environment for some of our most needed and challenging conversations. It is a 21st Century leadership skill and it could disarm the toxic state of public discourse.