conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Buber

What Good Is a Group?

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The occasional spark. The intentional fire.

I’ve been wondering this lately: what good is a group?

Mrs. Kirkistan and I lead a small group that regularly meets together to read ancient texts. At the moment we’re slowly going through Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s riveting stuff.

There comes a time in the life of every small group where people start to bow out. Life gets in the way. Work, sickness, commitments and gradually the small group is, well, really small. Only a few show.Group-04172015

Even so—with only one or two showing up—some magical spark can happen in the course of an ordinary conversation.  We talked about the pointed words Jesus had to say about lust and adultery—old terms we don’t hear much in our culture—experiences so common they seem to be just expected parts of everyday life. In the course of hashing through those words, we talked about seeing people as objects. And suddenly I was making connections with Levinas and Buber and realizing I am also in need of reforming bad thought habits.

These conversational sparks happen at work too. Yesterday I was lamenting to myself the ways large corporations dampen the enthusiasm of otherwise bright, motivated people. In the middle of that thought a client returned a call that we had cut short the day before. He had been thinking through our conversation and had five or six things to add. This client—from a very large corporation—had found a way to take personal ownership of the process and our discussion had a sort of breathless excitement to it.

This is rare.

And cool.

Our seemingly ordinary conversation had unearthed some live wire. And a group of us were doing our best to act on it.

So—all this to say that groups can do things individuals cannot. And sometimes a group conversation can create something brand new.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

My Raw Argument for Conversation

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The Practice of Dialogue Rests on Solid Ground

I’ve become intrigued by trying to boil Listentalk down to the most elemental forms. Intrigued because there is a firm foundation for which I can build things on. Here’s what I know so far:

you really should

  1. There is a performative aspect of language. This performative aspect allows language to actually do something out in the world, to make things happen. It is not just that speaking something makes it true. But there is something closely related that is less about true/false and more about perception/reality: when we speak something, it becomes public, it becomes known, it becomes the story we’re going with—unless immediately debunked by those involved in the hearing and telling. So…stuff happens when we speak it. It becomes true…or at least truish. JL Austin, John Searle and others go on and on about such speech acts. I intend to hear more from them.
  2. We do right by others when we treat them as people. Obvious? Yes and no. Martin Buber suggested we often treat each other as objects rather than as people. He talks about “I-Thou” relationships where we treat the person before us as fully-human, whole people. Beings with many facets, interests, parts of their character. We talk and (especially) listen to them as we respect the dignity of their being human. But too often we treat others with an “I-It” sort of connection. That is, the kind of connection we have with an object too often becomes the model for the way we connect with people. We use a hammer to pound a nail, a George Foreman Grill to press a Panini for lunch. It makes sense to use tools in that way. But we mustn’t treat people as if they were objects. We devalue them. People are people. People are not objects placed on earth for the sole purpose of carrying out my personal (sometimes diabolical) will. There’s much more to say about this (in particular from Emmanuel Levinas), but that is the basic argument.
  3. God created and interacts with people. Lest you think I’m writing some humanistic diatribe, both the performative nature of language and the treatment of people as beings of dignity flow directly from the Old and New Testaments. Look at the role of “Word” from Genesis 1 to John 1 to Revelation 22. Words are performative so often it will make your head spin (If your head is subject to spinning) (You might want a doctor to look at that). Watch how the Eternal One allowed for the possibility that words spoken could be rejected. Even the words of the Creator. Even the Word that was a person as well as God.
  4. We’re at a new time when gatekeepers no longer control the discourse. Social media is part of the deal, but not the whole deal. New attitudes about who is in authority, who we can trust and who we cannot trust are in operation. Technology is opening doors.

Those are “Listentalk’s” four building blocks.

What did I miss?

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