Dialogue Is Always Possible
“Life and Reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to others.”
From: Become What You Are (1995/2003)
Dialogue is always possible, because having a relationship with anyone or anything is always possible. No matter how intensely we experience differences and divisions between ourselves and others, nothing is more fundamental or significant than the fact that we share our reality with all the people, events, objects, and environments we encounter in our everyday lives.
We all belong to a variety of communities and societies, which in turn belong to a universal, all-encompassing family, an indisputable and indestructible wholeness. And given the interdependency implied by belonging to a universal family, we are always capable of interacting in some way with whatever comes our way, provided we keep our minds and hearts open to our fundamental togetherness.
Keeping ourselves attuned to our togetherness can be thought of as the foundation of our moral lives, because it is what allows us to determine what is right and good with respect to keeping our relationships as life-enhancing as possible. The current widespread erosion of truthfulness as a human value is clearly one of the most challenging moral dilemmas we face today. How can we respond to any situation in ways we believe are right and good if we cannot trust the information we receive about it?
As many scholars and social commentators have observed, modern technologies are redefining the ways we think and feel about our relationships, or more precisely, about being an individual living in the midst of other individuals. Nowadays, a person is more likely to be understood as an independent (autonomous) individual, rather than an interdependent participant in the events of everyday life. And being in a relationship is more likely to be understood in terms of being part of a specific group, rather than in terms of interacting with all aspects of our lives as we experience them. Sadly, this movement towards individualism in both our interpersonal and intersocietal relationships relies on maintaining divisions among us, sometimes very antagonistic ones.
It is not difficult to see divisiveness at work, both in our immediate environments and around the globe. It is an obvious characteristic of international relations, race relations, interfaith relations, extreme political partisanship, extreme economic disparities, and in many issues related to our psychological well-being, such as the pressure to maintain a certain public image or to succeed at all costs. And it is not difficult to see the devastating consequences of such divisiveness: lifestyles that destroy many aspects of planetary life, and the continued use of confrontation and violence (both physical and psychological) at all levels of societal life. In addition, there are many divisive psychological and moral issues associated with a largely unmitigated acceptance of technological innovations. For instance: a widespread indifference to the drastic changes in the way we gather information and think and feel about things, and the monumental challenges we face when dealing with the emergence of unprecedented biotechnologies and artificial intelligence.
In the face of our many challenges with respect to healing the divisiveness of contemporary life, it is tempting to think immediately in terms of what we can do to help create a more together-oriented world. However, I think a more fundamental approach to these challenges is to ask: What kind of person do I need to be in order to contribute in the best possible way to the well-being of myself and our world? When we focus on being a unity-oriented person—a genuine participant in whatever we do—we are preparing ourselves to be responsive in any kind of situation. Whereas, if we focus on doing certain kinds of activities, we may actually bring into a situation something that interferes with our ability to be as responsive as possible.
So, yes, some form of dialogue is always possible, because it is always possible to be engaged in a relationship of some kind. But it is not possible to anticipate what is best in terms of participating in a dialogue, because each one is a unique experience.
“The question truly at stake is not what is being talked about, but who is doing the talking.”
From: Philosophy as a Way of Life (1995)
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Living in the middle of things involves a willingness