FWD: Dialogue vs Polarized Debate

Anitra Again (anitra@speakeasy.org)
Thu, 11 Dec 1997 19:36:04 -0800 (PST)

I re-posted this recently to the Homeless list, and by Tom's request
I'm also re-posting it here; forgive me if you remember seeing it
before! :)

Some material from the SHARE Conflict Resolution Class website.

   This material is a version originally found at Common Ground. It has
   been edited to reflect the kind of polarized debates and/or dialogues
   we deal with within the activist community and our shelter groups.

POLARIZED DEBATE                      DIALOGUE

Participants hardly talk to each      Participants talk to each other
other before the meeting; what talk   regularly and their talk is an
there is does not affect the meeting. essential part of the full process.

The atmosphere is threatening;        Facilitators propose, get
attacks and interruptions are         agreement on and enforce
expected by participants and are      clear ground rules to enhance
usually permitted by moderators.      safety and respectful exchange.

Participants speak as represen-       Participants speak as
tatives of groups (including          individuals, from their
religions and ideologies).            own unique experience.

Participants speak to their own       Participants speak to each
constituents and, perhaps, to the     other.
undecided middle.

Differences within "sides" are        Differences among participants
denied or minimized.                  on the same "side" are revealed,
                                      as individual and personal
                                      foundations of beliefs and
                                      values are explored.

Participants express unswerving       Participants express uncertainties,
commitment to a point of view,        as well as deeply held beliefs.
approach, or idea.

Participants listen in order to       Participants listen to understand
refute the other side's data and      and gain insight into the
to expose faulty logic in their       beliefs and concerns of the
arguments. Questions are asked from   others.  Questions are asked
position of certainty. These          from a position of curiosity.
questions are often rhetorical
challenges or disguised statements.

Everybody knows what's going to be    Individual participants have
said on both sides; there are no      different viewpoints, come up
surprises.                            with new ideas in the meeting.
Statements are predictable and offer  New information surfaces.
little new information.

Success requires simple impassioned   Success requires exploration of the
statements.                           complexities of the issue being

Everyone speaks within a framework    Participants feel free to question
already taken for granted -- the      the framework and "go outside the
local culture or customs, the         lines" for a solution.
dominant group ideology, whatever.    Participants may discover
Any solutions have to fit within      inadequacies in the problem-solving
the assumptions of that               system itself.


The most basic elements of conflict resolution are:

) Listen first.

) Reflect back to the other person what you understood of what they said,
until that person agrees that you did understand.
  Understanding does not mean agreement.  But there is a distinct
difference between:
        -- "I understand that you believe that individual responsibility
will solve our problems, and government intervention cannot."
        -- "I understand you to say that the oppressed are to blame
for all their problems and you absolve the fascist state of all

) Look for common ground, and common goals.

) Express your own views in terms of "In my experience" and "This makes me
feel" -- as opposed to "Everybody knows", "It is a fact that", and "You
are an abusive bigot".

In reference to the last, I have always been struck by the absurdity of
such statements as, "I insist on being treated like a human being, you
corporate conservative asshole" -- or all the paraphrases of it that I

Plainly labeled personal advice:

Take the moral high ground -- don't let anybody abuse you into abusing
them back.  By treating even the intolerant with dignity, you'll end up
with a bigger universe than they have -- so who's lost?

                          ~~ WRITE ON! ~~ Anitra L. Freeman ~~ ::
anitra@speakeasy.org             http://www.speakeasy.org/~anitra