Of Trolls and Engineers and Open-Source Dialogue
What will it take to think together?
How hard can it be to learn something from a conversation?
Really hard—if you go against what your audience believes or wants to believe. In Mistakes were made (but not by me), Tavris and Aronson make a compelling case that facts mostly don’t get in our way when we form opinions. In fact, cognitive dissonance feeds our ability to continually spin our decisions in a positive light. So citing facts becomes like hanging paper in a room—I see you pasting it up and already I’ve tuned out the pattern.
Also hard if you fear reprisal for speaking your opinion. Given the troll-mentality that affects the best of us when hidden behind our keyboard, why dare express an unpopular opinion if some sort of flame war results? And yet saying what we think—stating aloud how we read the situation or how we understand something—is key to learning. We need to hear ourselves to begin to see room for change.
Also hard if talking with a monologist who piles on detail. Engineers are not the only ones guilty of this. Many of us forget to pause, take a breath, and check that anyone cares what we are saying. Learning conversations require a bit of white space.
Learning by talking is also hard if hurried—and perhaps this is the most common difficult. Who’s got time for the long conversations that take hours to unwind? Long car trips are great for this. So are camping weekends. Mrs. Kirkistan once described to me a three-month conversation she had with a good friend when they drove to San Francisco for the summer. I was envious.
I’ve recently run across a phrase that is new to me but which attracts me very much: deliberative conversations. The phrase seems to suggest a way around the hard bits I’ve described above. This background paper, Deliberative public engagement: nine principles, put out by the National Consumer Council in the UK, seems wildly optimistic about human talk. Take the first three principles:
The process makes a difference
The process is transparent
The process has integrity
And yet, these three, along with the other six principles, describe well the very essence of our best conversations—the ones where we actually learn something, the ones where we change our mind. Shot through this paper is the notion that people need time to sort stuff. And they/we may just need some guidelines to help us move through.
So rather than leaving it at “wildly optimistic,” I might prefer to say, “Yes. These are exactly the requirements each of us has for a truly deliberative, learning conversation.”
How to make that happen?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston