Based on my previous post, I want to list some basic ways we might guide intellectual discussions that tweak personal stories and touch on controversial subjects:
- Start with personal stories. Get them on the table. They do not nullify our beliefs but give them context. If we neglect stories, the conversation will likely miss the very factors that drive our interest in the first place. This is the most intellectually honest way to act when we have strong beliefs.
- Listen first, if possible, before you share your story. Listen and ask about the impact, the experience, the consequences of the narrative and even of the sharing of the narrative with others.
- When you share your story and subsequent beliefs acknowledge (a) what you use to support your beliefs (I believe x based on…), and (b) the problems with your position. Too often we only defend our positions with, “yes, but…” Instead, listen to what others “hear” when you present your point.
- Compile a list of the most important issues the discussants consider to be core or most important.
- Try to develop agreement on the hierarchy of issues(which will be dealt with first) but don’t demand your way. To get agreement you may wish to use an external guide (e.g., logic, systematic theology, philosophy of science, experience, praxis, etc.) to help decide which issues get tackled first. Be sure that you are committed to getting to all the issues (not necessarily in one sitting). If you lose steam after one issue, you will communicate that another issue is of little value to you.
- Work to separate issues from consequences—at first. Later, it will be important to consider the practical consequences of our positions.
- When you reply to someone else’s statements of belief, try to reiterate the main point and its foundational dogma and avoid immediately taking those beliefs to their logical and extreme conclusion. The person should be able to recognize their own viewpoints when you speak.
- At this point, avoid personal stories and avoid derogatory responses, especially when tempted to use them to undermine a person’s point. Do not blame a particular view with a behavior that isn’t required.
- Concede points where you can. Acknowledge different starting points and their impact on the dialog. Try to use each others vocabulary as they do.
- Find points of contact or common ground. Celebrate these and do not ignore them. Write them down as conclusions.
- Narrow and solidify divergences. Agree on these divergences where possible. Write them down as key conclusions to avoid unnecessary rehashing.
- Explore consequences of these diverging beliefs. Explore where those divergences matter and where they might not.
- Finally, let love and respect for others be evident to all.
Does this seem to extend conversations and make them long and tedious? Yes. I think the benefit is that it would avoid the constant recycling over the same issues and the problem of talking past each other. Does this method work well in all mediums? Probably not. In the sound-byte media world, eyes will glaze with this method. However, I’d prefer to sit with a cup of coffee and talk face to face than trade emails or comments while doing 6 other things.