I had a moment of cynicism this past Sunday, and the lessons apply directly to dialogue.
As the rain from Irene poured onto our yard, we kept waiting for it to come into our basement. Every hour we walked downstairs and checked. Dry. Dry. Dry. Finally, at 11:30, we saw the first film of water on the basement floor. Much wet/dry vacuuming ensued, but the water level never went above a coating.
Meanwhile, on every TV channel, meteorologists shook their heads and reported that Irene was every bit as disastrous as predicted. At one point I turned to my wife and asked, “Is it possible they’re hyping this just a bit?”
In the past few days, this experience reminded me of a basic truth about dialogue as a way of life: the way of dialogue suspends judgment. It is so easy to seize on one factoid or limited perspective or shred of truth—especially if it comes from our own experience—and leap to a fully formed opinion about the whole situation.
I would submit that our culture supports this jumping to conclusions in several ways. The overwhelming volume of media—24/7, always on, always “breaking news”—almost demands that we process and evaluate information instantly just to keep up. Partly to accommodate the media, many pundits, elected leaders, and talk radio hosts reduce complex issues to sound bites, and it becomes easy to assume that the sound bite is the sum total of the issue.
Moreover, the cynicism that pervades much of postmodern life can color our judgment. On numerous occasions, I’ve seen our local meteorologists make a big deal of a weather event that didn’t live up to the hype. Because of that, I found it easy to assume that hype had become standard operating procedure for boosting ratings. I did not stop to consider just how difficult weather forecasting can be, how many variables are involved, or how swiftly conditions can change.
Living as people of dialogue—people oriented toward openness, toward listening, toward a passion for seeking out the reality of a situation, toward the importance of others’ perspectives—calls us to remain open to as many inputs as possible, and consider them with respect, before (and even after) coming to judgment. It’s why getting our news from “the other side” as well as “our side” is so important. It’s why the consultancy for which I work (The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc.) urges clients to include a broad cross-section of people in the discussion of an issue: hearing inputs from many perspectives leads to a more complete view of the issue, which in turn makes for more thoughtful analysis and better decisions.
What would happen if we took this open, reflective, think-before-you-judge approach on the federal debt, or on immigration, or even with our kids when they do something questionable? Could it work? What do you think?