Meaningful dialogue is an elusive thing in our communities. Having a respectful conversation with someone about something on which we do not agree isn’t common. Yelling opinions over someone else or building a newsfeed that reinforces your worldview are common in a world with fewer and fewer great conversations. There is so much potential in dialogue, which is why this blog has explored what makes for great conversations over the last few weeks – here’s what we’ve covered:

We are wrapping up this series of articles with three ways to realize the potential of dialogue. Enjoy!

Godfrey’s tip: focus on your breathing

I keep coming back to good listening as a pre-requisite to good dialogue. I elaborated on what it takes to be a good listener in an earlier post. Being a great listener means remaining calm and receptive both intellectually and emotionally. Practicing simple meditation techniques is a good way to get there. Being aware of your own breath helps when exiting your own echo chamber and building a bridge to different communities.  Our ever chattering minds tend to shut down when dealing with opposing viewpoints. Breathing helps neutralize this response, which slows down our need to respond immediately and leaves us open to empathy. So next time you’re out of your preferred conversational comfort zone, whether it’s political discourse or engaging with your partner on tricky topics, just keep breathing. Dialogue is sure to follow.

John’s tip: take empathy walks

An “empathy walk” allows you experience the world from someone else’s perspective. For example, whether or not you are repulsed by the idea of Donald Trump becoming President of the United States, nearly half of the country’s voting population will cast ballots in his favour and’s Dylan Matthews argues that Trump’s supporters deserve to have their concerns taken seriously. So he did his very best to understand their perspective through experience (joining rallies) and empathy (seeing the world from their perspective). On a completely different note, Vancity’s employee onboarding program, Orientation Immersion, deepens peoples’ understanding of our members and the needs of their communities by taking folks on guided tours of the physical spaces and interacting with the people in the neighbournhoods (as opposed to a facilitator talking about it in the classroom).

It is difficult to begin to understand someone’s worldview or their experience unless you are willing to live life from their perspective, even if it’s only for a short time. By being present in the moment and connecting with a community that might be novel, scary or alien, you will be in a better position to see things differently.

Kurt’s Tip: burst your social media bubble

Online communities cultivate like-mindedness. You may have a couple Donald Trump supporters among your online network, but if everyone else you hang out with is a lefty, Facebook’s algorithm will likely ensure that you never see their Trumpian posts about immigration and Obamacare. That might be good for your blood-pressure, but it’s bad when it comes to honing your ability to engage and consider the perspectives of people with different viewpoints, which is a critical component of dialogue. That’s why building community beyond your bubble in the “real world” is crucial to exposing yourself to different and varied viewpoints. If you’re really serious about honing your dialogue skills, a good first step is trying to vary your reading beyond media organizations that affirm your perspective. If you are a progressive, consider reading what the National Post has to say about an issue. If you are a conservative, try checking out the Huffington Post. Then take it a step further by getting involved with diverse organizations that attract and engage people from all sorts of socio-economic stratum. Meet new people and try to do an empathy walk as John suggests above.

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