The Essence of the Process

by Alice Foley, facilitator of Plowshare’s Dialogue Initiative

“Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven't really paid much attention to thought as a process. We have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process. Why does thought require attention? Everything requires attention, really if we ran machines without paying attention to them, they would break down. Our thought, too, is a process, and it requires attention, otherwise it's going to go wrong.”  David Bohm

True Dialogue contains the possibility to discover a whole new approach to creating the future. As you begin to focus your skills of Dialogue, you connect with high-energy, like-minded people who share your desire to enhance their ability to change their world. This is when we refer to Dialogue as an art, a creative action – not copied, not an extension of someone else's work. It's unique, absolutely new.

It certainly is not the way we think of Dialogue in our society. The word is tossed around without being aware of what we are saying. As we defend, argue, and justify our opinions, assumptions, and beliefs, we seem to have forgotten or never realized that other people might think differently than we do.

Most of us consider that Dialogue is simply a conversation between two people. Quantum Physicist David Bohm traces the roots of the word Dialogue to the Greek words dia and logus, translated as finding meaning through words. In Dialogue we create a fuller picture of reality rather than breaking it down into parts, as happens in many discussions. In Dialogue there's no emphasis on winning - we are not trying to convince others of our point of view. Instead, we emphasize new learning, and the synthesis of all points of view.  Not merely a set of techniques for creating a strategic plan, building consensus, solving problems, or adopting Best Practices. Dialogue slows down the speed at which we converse by drawing on deeper levels of listening and reflection, taking us out of the realm of a temporary solution. 

This allows us to deeply explore a subject by taking it into ourselves, and becoming aware of our discomfort, our biases, our opinions and above all, our tendency to want to be always right. With this process we gain new insights and wisdom from the whole group. In letting go of predetermined outcomes, important issues are allowed to surface that often go undiscovered in usual interactions. Eventually we get out of ourselves, enabling us to suspend our dualistic thoughts, and create a culture of shared leadership. We eliminate the dependence on competition, and gradually move to increased inclusion, partnership and ownership.

This is not easy.  But, if we immerse ourselves in the process, together we can take ourselves to the depths of the questions of our lives - Who Am I?  Why am I here?  What am I here to do?