“In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.” Thich Nhat Hanh
I will admit that this week, I was struggling to find inspiration for my weekly Newsletter musings. Then, the first presidential debate took place in the USA whilst, coincidentally, I was preparing a presentation for teachers that includes the theme of professional dialogue. I doubt many would describe that particular debate as «inspirational» – but it certainly made me think about the topic of debate and dialogue as tools of genuine communication and understanding.
At its very best, dialogue allows us to navigate cultural misunderstandings and communication failures in order to find a common ground – a way to collectively reframe a situation or a specific issue in a way that allows us to understand each other so that we can attempt to comprehend another perspective. Where there is no
common ground, we can at least agree to respect other people’s opinions and beliefs and their right to hold them. This is because dialogue is not only about expressing our thoughts and ideas – it is equally about listening. Really, actively listening to another person (or people) who is different from you, perhaps in significant ways, and making an authentic effort to understand their point of view.
I am concerned about what current politics and social media are teaching our students about the ways in which we should treat people with whom we do not agree. One of the things that we hope to do through our teaching, supported by our core values, is to encourage students to be open minded and tolerant. We want to foster an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean that we can dismiss it out of hand. Just because we don’t agree with something – doesn’t mean that we get to assert that it is inherently wrong. Not everything has to be a fight; an argument; a struggle.
So, especially when our students have more access than ever to social media; online news and oh so many YouTubers offering their opinions, it becomes ever more important to model for them the value of dialogue. Of trying to understand. We know how important it is for young people to feel that their opinions are being taken into account and that the adults in their life are listening to them. But how often have you taken a stance of “because I said so”? Or “because those are the rules”? Or, my own mother’s personal favourite, and I am sure that of many “because life is not fair”? We have to make that special effort to model the behaviour that we want our students to emulate. We have to create spaces for dialogue.
So, I challenge you to find some time this week to talk to your children, however young they might be, about an important topic. Something that you would like them to be able to take a stand on if they were asked to. And then, I challenge you to listen and to be prepared to learn something new, by way of a new perspective. This is how we open doors to critical, rational, sympathetic communication. This is how we can teach our students the value of dialogue.