How to Converse Without Conflict

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A great problem of our time is conflict. Mankind is a species with a great capacity and we have acquired a great deal of knowledge. We have, however, not mastered the ability of sharing this knowledge with each other without conflict. It is this that I would like to speak about today.

From your family’s dinner table to the Houses of Parliament, this seeming inability to discuss serious topics in the absence of conflict is observable. We seem to discuss such things in the context of our own personal interest and not with an air of togetherness.

My feeling is that many people have not sufficiently understood the tremendous implications of this sense of togetherness and the creative ways in which it can be maintained through dialogue with another. It is a very delicate affair that requires a great deal of sensitivity to manage and has a purpose grounded in a profound sense of care for the topic being discussed and all the people involved.

To understand this flaw, we must understand what listening really is and how we are currently conditioned to listen.

How do we listen?

At present, we are conditioned to make the following responses to hearing another’s words:

  1. We accept or reject what the other says.
  2. We translate what the other says to make it fit our own knowledge.
  3. We compare what the other says to another idea we hold.
  4. We oppose what the other says.

These automatic, conditioned responses instil conflict in our relationships. They cause us to take sides, and when we takes sides we block ourselves. They deny us the ability to simply listen to what the other is saying, understand their opinion, and reply with the next logical question so that all parties concerned can continue their exploration together.

Our responses become a stimulus that redirects our focus to the response itself and privileges the importance of our opinions. This is why we feel compelled to get our point across and where we can see behaviour such as shouting originating. It is only when we free ourselves from these responses that we can observe what is being said and really listen. Listening affords us the ability to derive meaning from what is being said, see the significance and consequence of it, develop a caring response, and retain a peaceful social integrity – a maintained sense of togetherness.

When you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, you become associated with one side of the subject under discussion and that inhibits your capacity for free enquiry.

A question is an important tool in collectively maintaining a state of free enquiry because, if properly utilised, it can be a response that does not convey affiliation to a specific side. When a question is properly utilised, it conveys a sense of interest in the topic being discussed rather than an interest in where to place oneself relative to the topic.

It is important to remain impartial throughout enquiry because when one associates oneself with a particular side, then one’s thinking will become distorted. One will then become open to feeling threatened by contradictory opinions, and often threat triggers defensive and violent responses. The consequence of taking sides is social instability.

Proper dialogue is the act of penetrative exploration in the absence of any sense of division.

The progression of the conversation will come naturally, but one must always be sensitive to the atmosphere in which that conversation is taking place. After all, it is only the atmosphere that can prevent progression.


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