Every evening I receive an Email from Pete; every morning Pete receives an Email from me! Well, almost every evening; almost every morning. Sometimes something comes up that prevents our daily messaging, though this has been extremely rare. Pete and I were friends for a brief time some 50 years ago and then lost touch with one another. Seven or eight years ago I found Pete. We have visited several times since. We dialogue via Email.
Dialogue is more than just saying my words, and giving Pete opportunity to say his words. It also involves listening—being able to hear what lies behind the words we say or write. We are all very different from one another and we can’t have dialogue without recognizing these differences. Dialogue is a way of building a bridge across those differences—the gulf between ourselves and others. We can’t really communicate unless I can see how things look from your side and you can see how things look from my side.
In other words, I have to leave the place where I am—the feelings and thoughts that are important to me—in order to dwell for a little while with the other’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, and perceptions. In some real sense, dialogue requires me to deny myself for a little while—give up my life, so to speak—in order to really experience the life of another.
It is not the purpose of dialogue to persuade another person to accept our opinions, values or view of the world. The purpose of dialogue is to create understanding—a climate where communion takes place. Many miles separate Pete and myself, yet we can still say/write our words to one another, read and listen carefully, and build a bridge across our differences, enough so that on occasion I can see how things look from his side and he can see how things look from my side.