Using Dialogue as a Conscious Process
When John Donne wrote that ‘no man is an island’ he was reflecting a universal truth that – everything exists in relation to something else. Applying this to our own relationships we can say that we are all connected to others in some way; we are interdependent – existing in relationship. Our relationships, the roles we play, and the responsibilities that come with these roles, assist the way we define ourselves and how we are defined by others. Within these relationships and roles we act out our drives, wants and purposes in a living process. And as we move through this process we are influenced and informed by the phenomena of Voice, Space and Place.
Our Voice (in the broadest sense) is the expression of who we are. It includes our actions, our expressions, and our communications (intentional and unintentional). We communicate through a range of media: we speak, we write, and we create images and metaphor. We communicate through our actions. We create a language that is expressed through our bodies. Our Voice is heard, received and interpreted by others. A teacher for example, communicates to his or her students and is defined as a teacher because of the relationship that exists with these students.
Space exists between things. Space exists in order for two entities to be defined as separate. In human relationships Space is in a constant state of flux; the elements of closeness and distance being negotiated constantly. Space is experienced in a physical, emotional, intellectual and psychological sense. Space can also be: the time given to consider and the time given to contemplate. Space can be literal and it can be metaphoric. Space can equate to time and to proximity.
Place is where we are. It is situational and psychological. A place is a position from where we take a point of view. Our perspective relates directly to the place or position we take. Place also relates to our roles and relationships. We seek to: “own a place”, “know a place”, and “build a place”. And are often asked to: “take a position”, “define our position”, and “state our position”. Through Place we can categorise and be categorised. Place tells us where we are. Where we are informs our relationship to another: person, place, subject, idea or phenomenon. Place like Space can be literal or metaphoric.
Keeping these three phenomena in mind and working with the understanding that we exist in relation to one another, it follows that we are able use this knowledge to help us learn about our relationships; and conversely, that our relationships can help us learn about ourselves. Appreciating this potential encourages us to deepen our connection to our Voice, Space and Place, especially as they exist within a given relationship; making it possible to use a relationship as a site of learning where both parties agree to do so.
The practice of open and inclusive dialogue is a tool that can be employed to explore the possibility of consciously using a relationship as a site of learning. Dialogue is the opposite of debate. By definition debate is competitive; when we are in a debate we seek victory. By definition dialogue is collaborative; when we participate in dialogue we seek shared understanding. Both can be rigorous. Both can be respectful. However the nature of debate tends to prevent the functions of co-discovery, co-creation and collaboration.
To practice dialogue is to enter an exchange where all points of view are discussed openly, without judgment, accusation or acrimony; each point of view is heard – each topic or subject is given full hearing and not put under the pressure of counterpoint.
Debate can be likened to a ‘Gold Rush’: competitors rushing to see who can be first to find the prize. Dialogue can be likened to a joint expedition to discover the benefits of gold and to share the benefits of the discovery. Within a conscious relationship it is possible to encourage and support dialogue as a means to derive shared understanding. The achievement of shared understanding is in itself the creation of new awareness and knowledge.
Voice within Dialogue
The expression of Voice within the dialogic process gives each person the opportunity to: put thoughts and feelings to voice, find a voice, re-voice, reflect through voice, feedback through voice, and hear the voice of ‘the other’ within the relationship that is being explored. The expression of Voice gives rise to learning and potential transformation. When expressed Voice releases and reveals what has hitherto existed within the mind and body, new life and understanding is created. Expression and reception of Voice within dialogue is essential for making meaning: when what is for one, is given Voice and shared by two, new meaning is made..
Space within Dialogue
The exploration of Space within the dialogic process gives each person the opportunity to negotiate the distance or closeness of the aspect to be explored. Each person determines the initial point of contact and the initial perspective from where that aspect is to be viewed. When something is too far away it is hard to see, where something is too close it is equally difficult to focus. The dialogic process allows each person to locate the subject of his or her exploration within a ‘viewable’ perspective. The negotiated Space assists us determine whether the aspect to be explored is “too hot” or “too cool” to be beneficial. In dialogue the Space is always open and fluid, either person enabled to suggest a widening or closing when it is deemed appropriate. Holding the Space together means that both parties are responsible for the co-creation of understanding and learning.
Place within Dialogue
The exploration of Place within the dialogic process gives each person the understanding and appreciation of the Place from where a subject is viewed. It is necessary to appreciate that often we tend to take a place or position on a subject that is fixed. We can ‘lock off’ on certain points of view. We do this to feel secure, to protect our interests and to give ourselves a sense that we can determine outcome. The downside is that only viewing a subject from one perspective may limit our ability to “see the whole”. When we remain fixed on one position we remain ignorant of the other position. This limitation can lead to an impasse, a sense of being stuck, tension in communication or a conflict or breakdown within the relationship. It cuts off our capacity to learn within the relationship, about ourselves and the other person.
The ability to respect and appreciate alternate perspectives is not just a means of avoiding or resolving conflict. It is a necessary step on the path through dialogue to see and explore a greater whole. Which ultimately leads to the potential for learning and transformation within a relationship.
Utilising dialogue and valuing the aspects of Voice, Space and Place within the relationship means that the relationship itself can become a site of learning and transformation through a conscious and purposeful process. Difficulty, discomfort or disease within a relationship can present an opportunity for learning. If each person has the desire and is willing to commit to a conscious process it is possible to gain the benefits that such an opportunity presents, as it is entirely possible to see a negative from a positive perspective.
Difficulty in relationships and communication often stems from our inability to see another person’s perspective or the fact that we misinterpret their intentions: this can be because the opposing view or person is either judged or feared. However, if we move from fear, we move towards love; if we move from judgment, we move toward acceptance. Working with the qualities of love and acceptance assists communication by creating resonance and accord within our relationships. It assists the process of dialogue. It can lead us to the ultimate experience of the co-creation of consciousness, transformation and deep learning within our relationships. It is the gold that is waiting to discovered in every conscious relationship.