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Posts Tagged ‘guns’

Breaking Through to 201: Dialogue Beyond the Basics

Does this ever happen to you? You get involved in a new endeavor—a different line of work, an unusual hobby, a new practice in your faith tradition, whatever. You read about it, talk to people who’ve done it for years, attend conferences, email the “gurus” in the field, etc. After a while, you start hearing the same information over and over. So now you figure you’ve heard the basic parameters or, in the parlance of college-level courses, the 101.

Then you get deeper in—and you find that a lot of the 101 doesn’t work, or isn’t even accurate. You start craving 201.

I noticed this while seeking a publisher for my book. According to the 101, to get your book published you need an agent. To get an agent you need to send out queries and proposals. You will be rejected 99% of the time. But sales do happen. What you need, more than anything else—beyond the ability to write compellingly and (for nonfiction) a built-in audience—is perseverance.

I did this for quite a while and got nowhere. At some point, I reevaluated the parameters of my writing: my calling to write books, my goals in light of that calling, my age, my financial and career situation, etc., etc. Right around this time, an author who had read my Huffington Post blog offered to introduce me directly to her publisher, SkyLight Paths Publishing. The result has been a delightful author-publisher relationship that breaks many rules of the 101—but has worked very well for me.

What does this have to do with dialogue? The answer, for me, lies in the lessons I learned:

  • Push beyond the 101. For a great example, consider the current controversy over gun ownership. The 101, in this case, consists of the clichés and well-worn arguments that the various “sides” reiterate whenever the issue arises. But between “there is no reason whatever to own an assault rifle” and “guns don’t shoot people, people do,” there is a vast spectrum of nuance and complexity that an authentic dialogue could reveal. To reach across divides, to arrive together at a way forward, we must explore that spectrum. In the process, we will gain a clear-eyed, deeper view of where the 101 is correct—and where it’s not.
  • Talk to someone else. After getting nowhere with the 101, I talked with some authors who, I knew, had taken a dramatically different path. Their wisdom expanded my understanding of book publishing in a way I could not have imagined otherwise. To take this back to guns: how many advocates of stringent gun control have talked to residents of rural areas in which self-defense is the only viable option in the face of crime? How many gun owners have heard the stories of those whose lives have been devastated by gun violence?
  • Refine the questions. Maybe, when faced with the 101, I should have asked questions like How much perseverance is enough? How much audience do you need for what kind of book? What if I want to do this some other way?  Deeper dialogues, I suspect, come from deeper questions.

Have you had experiences like these—where it seemed impossible to break through the 101, but only the wisdom at the 201 level would satisfy? What did these experiences teach you? Please feel free to share here.

When a Dialogue on Guns Breaks Out—or Two or Three

Sometimes people inspire the hell out of me. That includes some of you over the past three weeks.

In my last post—shortly after the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado—I posed a few questions for people on both sides of the ongoing debate over gun ownership.  The public square was abuzz with many of the typical catchphrases and hostilities that typically pervade this debate. I was hoping that maybe these questions could spark a dialogue.

Boy, did they ever.

A small but dedicated group of people responded with the most thoughtful comments I’ve seen on the topic. One or two of them are involved in the field of dialogue and deliberation; the rest are people I know from other parts of my life. Most people restated their long-held positions, but at a level of detail and consideration that provided plenty of insight for me—and, I hope, anyone reading these comments.

Just in case you weren’t privy to these conversations, I want to share them with you. Take a look at the comments below. Then go to my Facebook page (the Timeline version) and scroll down or search the word questions or gun. Let me know if you can’t find it, and I’ll try to direct you to where it is. (Facebook technology sometimes eludes me.)

Thank you to those who have contributed. And believe me, it’s not too late. Please jump in.

Questions in My Mind About Dialogue and Guns

It has been some 30 hours since the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Even 2,000 miles away, the shock is still raw. I cannot imagine the suffering that the people involved must be enduring at this moment. To be sure, they are in my prayers.

During these mind-numbing 30 hours, people have given voice to the usual positions on gun control. I find this distressing—partly because of the volume and hostility behind these pronouncements, but much more because they do not begin to answer the questions deep beneath them.

Here are some of the questions that roll through my mind. Please understand that I am not asking them in a rhetorical fashion to defend one position or another; I truly want to know the answers. And if you have a position on guns, I invite you to post your answers and your thinking. I would only ask that you refrain from (a) restating tired positions and (b) demonizing the other side. Go deep.

That said…

For people who favor the unfettered right to bear arms:

  • Why is gun ownership important to you? How has it made your life better?
  • From your perspective, are some guns more dangerous than others? Do some guns have legitimate uses in a democratic society and others not?
  • For those who answered yes to the previous question: If a ban on very dangerous guns with no legitimate use could reduce incidence of violence, why would that be a bad idea?
  • Is there any connection in your mind between a culture of gun ownership in general and the incidence of violence? If so, how high would that incidence have to be for you to accept some limits on gun ownership?
  • Why do you consider background checks onerous?

For those who favor limits on gun ownership:

  • How do you feel about guns in general? Why?
  • How do you think about the apparent randomness of mass shootings?
  • What do you do with the fact that no screening procedure, no background check, and no limit on guns will eliminate the kinds of mass violence like that perpetrated last night?
  • Are there legitimate uses of guns? How would you ensure that people can use them legitimately?

I’m sure there are many other good questions, but now it’s your turn. Please. More than ever, we need to get somewhere on issues like these. And we can only get somewhere when we talk—and listen.

A Civil Letter to Sarah Palin

Marianne Williamson’s letter to Sarah Palin didn’t exactly make front-page news when it first came out. But it’s required reading for anyone who cares about dialogue.

Williamson, a spiritual teacher who, by her own admission, is not a conservative, wrote her letter when Palin was using the language of guns to encourage “taking aim” at her opponents. In theory, Williamson could have joined the popular chorus in mocking Palin mercilessly.

Instead, she tried to engage Palin. And the way she did it is enlightening.

Right from the start, Williamson admitted her position in the public square—both what separates her from Palin and, unusually, where they find common ground. “I don’t share your politics but I do share your country,” she wrote. “I am writing to you now as a fellow American and also as a woman who, like you, puts my spiritual journey above all else.” By asserting that common ground, she looked to build trust where none existed before.

Then she went one step further. Rather than diss Palin’s recent book from afar, she made the effort to read it. What a concept! Williamson found a lot to like and said so, establishing more solidarity. She also found a lot to dislike and said that too—in a respectful, civil manner.

Then she made her plea: a carefully reasoned argument for Palin to stop using gun metaphors in her public appearances.

I could describe the letter more, but check it out and you’ll see what I mean. If we could bring such honesty and gentleness to our own dialogues—if we could first seek out common ground and strive to build trust—we just might connect with our adversaries as never before. Part of building that trust involves absorbing, in depth, what “the other side” believes; in doing so, we show a respect that will come through in our dialogues.

Have you ever reached out to an adversary like this? How did you do it? What were the results? Do tell.