The Challenge of Conversations that Really Matter
Do you feel stifled and unable to have conversations that really matter anywhere in your world? Do you feel we need new ways to figure out how to talk to each other with compassion and generosity in a way that we can convey something really important without rancour and dissent? Do you feel you can listen deeply to a challenging idea or someone with a completely different viewpoint?
Like Ian McGilchrist who spoke at Rebel Wisdom earlier this Summer, I grew up in the 60s and 70s; a time when there was significant intellectual freedom to think and speak publicly about unthinkable things. It’s rather ironic that in the 21st century when we should have so much more freedom that the opportunity to discuss radical and difficult subjects in public spaces has been undermined to such an extent that there are few — if any — spaces where people can express themselves openly without fear of censure and judgement by the mob.
In times of radical change and uncertainty, we need people to be able to be confident in being able to cause a few ripples here and there. It is a bizarre paradox that in an era enormous individual freedom in western societies, we by contrast find ourselves in what Ian described as ‘a constrained intellectual environment’.
Social media has exacerbated a societal shut down instead of activating its promise of freedom. Power is distributed but that means social shaming and being vulnerable to the power of the mob — like gladiators in the Colosseum were once vulnerable to the thumbs up or thumbs down. It means being vulnerable to being dehumanised — the classic strategy of autocratic, divisive culture. I have a neighbour who is unpleasant and difficult. He puts letters through my door addressed to Dear Neighbour. A small thing, but denying you your name is the first step to trying to dehumanise you. If you’re not a name, what are you? A number? Tattoed on your arm?
We desperately need spaces to have the kind of conversations we need to have without risk. Without risk of it being a career-ending move. Without fear of being ostracised from our community. Without fear of becoming the bullied one because everyone else is so fearful and cowardly, they’ll cluster together against anyone who rocks the status quo.