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Dialogue by Being There

Can you start a dialogue just by showing up?

Miki Kashtan’s friend did. At a conference on reconciliation, this friend realized with despair that there was no exploration of gay issues on the agenda. On the third day of the conference, after praying and wrestling with the omission, she stepped to the microphone, announced to a conservative audience that she was gay, and simply made herself available. And people started coming. She didn’t try to change their mind; she just listened. (Miki puts this much more eloquently than I ever could; you’ve got to read the post.)

In short, Miki’s friend was present, in her attendance and her few words.

This past weekend, I attended the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. Before us was a contentious resolution that touched tangentially on GLBT issues: the endorsement of a formal covenant for the worldwide Anglican Communion. For several weeks I had studied the issue, solicited opinions, reflected, and prayed; from that work emerged a position that could respect the covenant’s supporters while saying no to the covenant itself. On Saturday, I articulated these thoughts in 90 seconds from the floor of the convention.

In short, I was present, in my attendance and my few words.

And people started coming. One first-time delegate, who had no idea how conservative the diocesan leadership was, expressed relief at finding a kindred spirit. The head of a progressive organization in the diocese thanked me for speaking up. Yet so did the diocese’s conservative firebrand, who generally brooks no nonsense from “liberals.”

Experiences like these leave me with so much hope…and a few lessons. One involves the timeframe of dialogue. I have no illusions that one 90-second speech—or a boatload of 90-second speeches—will change the basic mindset of 400 convention delegates. Neither will they inspire all of us to listen respectfully and dialogue civilly all the time.

But each time we do something like this, we give people a glimpse of the flesh-and-blood on the “other side.” We reveal that we’re human, use logic, and come to our positions in good faith. Then, the next time we do it, our listeners might be a bit more accepting of us, a bit more willing to listen, whether they agree or not.

The other lesson is like unto it. It’s easy to think of dialogue as this intense, formal, sustained effort, with facilitators and flip charts and study circles and such. Those efforts are worthy of applause. But right in the midst of our daily lives, we can move dialogue in seemingly tiny ways, like presenting oneself at a convention.

When we do, people will come.

Have you ever started a dialogue just by showing up? Did simply expressing who you are draw people to you? What happened?  Please share your experiences by clicking on the Comments line below.

One Response to “Dialogue by Being There”

  • Debbi says:

    This is an excellent observation. The best dialogue is creative…not shouting louder than the other guy or using better swear words or dropping bigger names…but devising a whole new approach to entering the arena. How do you get a sloppy teenage boy to comb his hair and change his clothes? Badgering and belittling him certainly won’t help. Instead, invite his teenage crush over to the house and see what happens. Presence can definitely triumph over words.

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