I keep hearing this phrase: “We’re trying to create a dialogue.” You’ve probably heard it too.
Groups that seem to grope at that statement tend to be part of a social movement of some kind, and God knows there are plenty to go around. Some of them stand alone on their platform of pursued justice. The others, and these are most of them, tend to intermingle with other social justice movements, whether it be economic equality, social equality, gender equality, LGBT rights, abortion rights, civil rights, #BlackLivesMatter, religious tolerance, climate change, gun control, and the list seems to go on. A single group can easily become lost in the fray by trying to take up every other issue, or at least multiple issues, which can water down the purpose of the attempted “dialogue”.
MISSING THE POINT OF CONVERSATION
It seems that many of those who are speaking the most have missed the point of conversation. My purpose in writing this is not to pinpoint any particular group. The objective is to pinpoint the purpose behind creating “dialogue”.
Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers and other amazing books, recently launched his podcast called Revisionist History. I highly encourage you to listen to it. I don’t agree with everything he says, but in every single podcast he makes powerful points and poses some very tough questions.
The reason I mention his podcast is because one of his episodes called “My Little Hundred Million” alludes to the power of persuasive argument. Listening to it is both illuminating and infuriating.
Gladwell takes one particular “dialogue” between the powers-that-be of Stanford University and the students of Stanford University. In the swirling mayhem of jumping on bandwagons of social justice movements and making demands that sometimes seem ridiculous, the students had a valid argument. The University has one of its schools named after the 28th president, Woodrow Wilson. Among the many things Wilson did as a two-term president, one glaring negative about him was his racism toward blacks.
For good reason it stands out and can easily be pinpointed. Wilson removed nearly all blacks from federal jobs, even after having promised to champion their cause. Gladwell makes a strong case for black students who despise the fact they have to study in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The mere act of entering and exiting the school can feel like an insult. For some, that’s exactly how it feels.
So we have the basis for an incredibly good argument. The students in late 2015 began to clamor for the name of the school to be changed. They protest. They even sleep in the University President’s office for some time. Then they present their case in a town hall-like meeting with the school board. In other words, they have worked toward achieving the “dialogue”, but it is at the pivotal moment that it all falls apart.
People from both sides (those who want the name gone and those who want it to stay) make their arguments. The only problem is the students, who are so passionate about their position, do not understand how to argue. They only know how to yell and scream and throw out epithets. It is a tantrum expected of a child, and not of some of the country’s brightest students. One student (and you can hear it in the podcast episode) screams, “Stanford owes me everything!”
While listening, I didn’t only feel myself withdraw from the conversation, but I could practically feel the listeners—the board members and those arguing from the other side—conducting a mass withdrawal from the conversation. Screaming and passionately professing their unsound arguments ended what could have actually been a “dialogue”.
Conclusion: The name stayed.
SCREAMING AND YELLING FOR “DIALOGUE”
No one in their right mental capacity will endure screaming and yelling. In fact, it doesn’t matter how many valid points are made. The other party will shut down and the “dialogue” will end.
If you pay any attention to the social movements I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you will find that many misunderstand “dialogue” to mean screaming, yelling, making absurd signs, and calling anyone who disagrees with them a racist, bigot, misogynist, homophobe, Islamophobe, fascist, Nazi, and that list goes on. Just like the list of social justice groups that seem to gather around capitol cities, the list of insults for those who disagree are ongoing as well. It appears to be the new way of “creating dialogue”.
When those on the other side of the “dialogue” are hit with these forms of rhetoric, they will either shut down or retaliate. There will be no actual “dialogue”. It will simply create a greater divide. Of course, there are plenty who would prefer that divide become more expansive. But I believe there are more, on the left and right, who prefer actual dialogue (you see how I finally removed the quotes).
So here is a piece of advice. Put the sign down. Quit screaming. Quit the name-calling. Learn precisely why you are making the argument (that includes facts and history). Then present it in a civilized manner.
You’ll find that method of “trying to create a dialogue” much more efficient compared to the current efforts.