Thursday, March 01, 2007

Is Talk Cheap

Is talk cheap? I don’t think so. In fact, talk, real talk—open unscripted dialogue among people willing to engage in deep silence as well as impassioned speech— is among the most costly things we can do. The real cost of real talk is our sense of ideological security, and without this we are thrust into an existential angst that most of us avoid.

This insight came to me as I sat in a meeting for a group I helped found in Nashville. The original intent of the group was to foster four weeks of dialogue around faith and politics from a liberal perspective. I had expected this to lead to some type of concrete action. What I discovered, however, was that the real action that is needed is more talk.

There are lots of action-oriented groups doing things, but no one has the time to really think through and talk through why they are doing them. And when we do talk, our talk is scripted, pre-digested, and boundaried by political correctness and ideological dogma. Everyone is required to tow the party line. This is not the kind of talk I crave.

In our search for an issue about which to take action, someone suggested immigration. The real topic was illegal immigration but saying so was politically incorrect. The assumption was that people of authentic (read liberal) faith would embrace the immigrant under the principle of “love thy neighbor” even if thy neighbor is occupying the house next door illegally. While I support treating all humans with respect, I do not think that respect necessarily translates into open borders.

Another member of our board suggested that the real issue underlying immigration is racism. Mexicans are brown and that says it all. Such thinking implies that only white Americans worry about illegal immigration, and that is patently false, yet to say so is to risk real dialogue and that is too costly. And besides, we were too eager to find something to do.

But what we really need to do was talk. We need to challenge our assumptions and assertions. We need to hear differing opinions. We need to learn how to dialogue with one another; how to listen and speak with open hearts and minds. We need to cultivate the courage to question our own opinions. We need community forums where we can hear speakers on different sides of an issue, and then break into small circles of inquiry to dig more deeply into what the truth might be. What I want are what I call “circles of inquiry” where people gather for unscripted talk arising from mutual silence and not-knowing. I want a topic placed before us with the assumption that we don’t know the truth of the matter and have to actually look together and investigate.

I had hoped that this is what yesterday’s meeting would lead to: the formation of an on-going forum where talk was dangerous and welcome. I don’t think that will happen with this group, but I still think it needs to happen.

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