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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Spirituality:The Wonders of Dialogue

Before Mass this morning, I was cleaning up the sacristy and I came across some old papers that I wanted to discard. I asked, “Is there a waste basket nearby?” and a woman gave me a full explanation of how recycling works in the parish house. And so I asked, “but is there a waste basket nearby?” and another woman confirmed the previous woman’s comments about the recycling process. They both were beaming at the ways they were very helpful to this priest who was new to the ways of their parish. I thanked them for their answer, but I told them that they did not provide an answer to the question I wanted to hear answered. A minute later I asked a third woman a different question and I received another answer only tangentially related to my question. I was perplexed. Why did they answer a question that I didn’t ask? They must have thought I meant to ask different one. Did they think that I really don’t know what I want and they have to tell me what they think I really mean?

For all the requests I hear for an increase of dialogue in our church and world, I pause and wonder what people really want. I guess I first want to know if we have the same baseline definition of dialogue because it often doesn’t seem evident in our world. So many aspects go into our use of language and our ability to communicate and it becomes extremely unlikely that one can walk away from a conversation and say, “yeah, we both demonstrated we knew what the other person was saying and we both seemed to feel heard.” Isn’t that what we want: to feel heard and to convey that we can hear the position of another person?

It seems to me that when someone speaks, it is best to convey to the speaker that you understand what he or she is saying. You can simply paraphrase their words. Once that baseline is established, the second person has a chance to respond. At that time it is good for the first speaker to convey understanding by paraphrasing that he or she heard the second speaker. It is a good process to begin to clear up potential miscomprehensions. It may take a bit of time at first until we get the hang of it, but it eradicates frustration.

Of course, style, body language, deeper meaning, expressing feelings and desires, positions of authority or hierarchy and other aspects provide a richer context for our communication. If we are to be people of dialogue, we need to return to the basics and master that art before we move forward.

As an exercise this week, notice the frequency that someone gives an answer to one of your questions that you did not ask. Just take note of it and how you feel about his or her response. See what interesting movements come up within you.

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