Even the simplest messages can be difficult to communicate. Recently, my wife and I were attempting what should have been a simple act of communication. When we realized we were talking past each other and not answering each other’s questions in the way the other desired, we (mostly just me) kept trying to explain our reasoning. We (mostly just me) dug in our heels and made what should have been an easy message to communicate a more heated discussion than was warranted.
You might read that story and think my wife and I need counseling (it certainly never hurts). My guess is that you’ve probably experienced a similar dynamic in a recent conversation (or many times). At such times, it would help to have the skill of Spock from Star Trek. While a Trekkie could probably explain this skill better than I can, Spock can telepathically read another person’s (usually an alien’s) thoughts by touching his hands to the individual’s forehead. Spock could then discern an alien’s intentions and determine the appropriate response. If I had this trick in my communication skills, my wife and I would have solved our minor dilemma (and countless others) in a flash. (I do not want to insinuate that her thoughts are alien to me, but…)
Annette Simmons, in her book A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths, makes this connection between communication and the “Vulcan mind meld.” (Mr. Spock is a Vulcan, for the non-Trekkie audience.) Simmons champions dialogue as a necessary practice for organizations to improve their communication and efficiency. Similarly, the Courageous Conversations project promotes dialogue as a necessary tool for improving communication and learning about contentious issues (political or otherwise) within a local church or churches. Courageous Conversations are structured dialogues for learning. The use of the word dialogue is crucial. As Simmons advocates, “Dialogue offers us an opportunity to link our minds and blend what they know with what we know for a bigger picture and better understanding” (19).
Too often our communication takes the form of argument (I win; you lose), debate (aim to win), or even discussion (which is related to the word percussion). Dialogue is a more formalized process of listening to learn, uncovering assumptions, and building relationships.
Unfortunately, the Vulcan mind meld is an ability reserved for the movies (unless Vulcans truly exist?). Since I can’t harness that skill, I’ll have to continue working on my communication and listening skills with my wife and others. While I could press this analogy further by observing that liberals seem like aliens to conservatives, and vice versa, I’ll refrain. Rather, I’ll reiterate that in a partisan atmosphere and with anxieties high, structured dialogues for learning in church settings (where there is shared history and the common experience of grace) can be an opportunity for the church to demonstrate to their community that while we might not all think alike, we continue to strive to love alike.
Structured dialogues for learning in church settings can be an opportunity for the church to demonstrate to their community that while we might not all think alike, we continue to strive to love alike.