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.
We are now in a space without even realising how we got there, where people are consistently operating from their sympathetic nervous system — flight or fight. It’s not safe to leave our ideological heartland, it’s not safe to budge from a position once taken. Yet what we need in order to move society forwards are spaces where we can operate from our parasympathetic nervous system — rest and digest — were we can absorb new ideas and come into a more relaxed exploratory mode.
I believe this is one of the most critical issues of our time. We need spaces for sense-making; avenues in which we can hold experiments in new ways to all understand one another. Fora to delve into neglected perspectives and ideas. We need to find new ideas from somewhere and if there’s no security to discuss half baked, half-formed ideas without the notion that you’re going to be stomped on from a great height, then where are those ideas going to come from? How are we going to transform our stagnant, degenerative economy to a thriving regenerative one without birthing wholly new ideas?
What we discuss is important. How we do it, is even more so. David Fuller, Rebel Wisdom
How does hope for the future arise in our current circumstances? Hope arises from our hearing each other enough, talking to each other enough that we can find space to learn how other people think across an ideological divide. Hope arises from created moments for deep conversation where we can take time to understand what another person’s cognitive model is. So that we can take time to develop a shared model. Somewhere we can say provocative things that are true, and then discuss them together.
It’s critical that as organisations, businesses, communities, governments and as individuals that we experiment with new ways to understand one another.
Our greatest failure in communication is that we don’t take time to recognise that every human being — even the person who engenders fear and loathing in us — has at times the fear, the uncertainty, the courage, the timidity, that we do. We are all someone’s worst nightmare. We are all someone’s ‘deplorable’.
We are all someone’s ‘deplorable’. Heather Heying
So how do we address this vaccum?
By creating discussion groups in which there is a high degree of psychological security.
By creating a level of intimacy through working in smaller groups of no more than 10 people.
By creating conversation groups in which you have time and capacity to develop a sense of the others in the group. Of who they are. To build trust and coherence. To be able to find a place where I understand, you understand. And although we might disagree, we are able to meet as human beings.
By supporting people we employ or our family members to develop themselves so that we can each reach a state where we are conscious that the interior work is as important as our exterior communication skills.
By learning to deploy those skills to give individual context and insight to host other conversations, which would be vastly more helpful than the kind of conversation that happens in the superficial contextual layer.
I’ve experienced that in many places and I hope I’ve managed to curate fair few conversations with that degree of security. What helps us to do that?
- The Art of Hosting practices are foundational
- Non violent communication training — Max St John is highly recommended for his courses in How To Fight Well
- Appreciative Inquiry
- World Cafe
- Bohm-ian dialogue
We nominally share a language with others; sometimes not even that. Language isn’t helping us bridge the divide of idealogical differences effectively any more. Embodied dialogue methods, like constellations and social presencing theatre, can open new perspectives in peoples minds.
Reflections from a gathering of Rebel Wisdom earlier this Summer.