Dialogue isn't dead, but it's definitely not dominating the communication scene these days. Instead, we're being polarized by an increasing number of sequential monologues - with many of us simply talking, tweeting, posting, reposting previously posted posts, proclaiming and pronouncing right past each other. We seem to have entered the age of absolute certainty, allowing us to avoid the bothersome process of thinking critically, exchanging ideas, asking questions, doing research or entertaining doubts.
Pick a topic - gun control, climate change, gay rights, euthanasia, immigration, evolution, abortion, etc, etc, - and you'll find one-sided assertions, line-in-the-sand invective, I'm-right-and-you're-wrong declarations, and my-way-or-the-highway dogmatism. You'll have to look hard for a balanced discussion of anything remotely controversial.
Apparently, we like to argue. And, we want to win. Lots of us see doubt, compromise, or even a willingness to listen to alternative lines of reasoning as weakness on our part, weakness that will ultimately result in the unthinkable: failure to win. In that sense we are infected with atychiphobia: the fear of failure.
It doesn't have to be that way. We're all in this together, profoundly connected, dependent upon and accountable to one another. We don't have to use the time while others are talking to plan our next put-down. We can listen. Good points made by our discussion partners can be acknowledged without ad hominem attacks. Their inquiries do not require us to move into defensiveness. We can say, "That's a good question. I need to give it serious thought."
It seems likely that humans will always have differences, but looking for some middle ground between the extremes of those differences does not set us up for failure. We need to move past our atychiphobia. Conceding a point during a civil discussion does not mean that we lose face, suffer public disgrace and experience humiliation that requires seppuku. It's simply a part of dialogue that is missing when we engage in monologues. It's part of doing the hard work required to meet the challenges that we face, challenges that we should be facing together.
In his Feb. 5 column about gun control, Ross Talbott compared guns to automobiles and bicycles asking, among other things, whether we should outlaw automobiles because they also kill people. (32,367 Americans in 2011.) Well, I vote no on outlawing cars, which I find dirty, expensive and dangerous, but ever so useful on a daily basis.
Then Talbott asked, "What about bicycles?" (Bicycles????) Well, it so happens that 677 people were killed on (not by) bicycles in 2011. There were 8,583 gun murders that year, and the total number of Americans killed by firearms was 32,163. So OK, what about bicycles? Beats me!
Then there's all that stuff about so many of the recent shooters being registered Democrats. What's that all about? Were they riding bicycles?
Personally, I don't have strong views on either side of the gun control issue, and I don't think any of this is relevant to reasoned debate on the subject. But Talbott did ask and the poor fellow has such chronic difficulty finding and understanding actual facts about anything in his columns. So, having some free time today, I thought I'd help him out on this one.