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How Do We Show Dialogue’s Risks are Worth its Rewards?

Last month, NCDD Board member John Backman sparked lots of thoughtful conversation on our NCDD Discussion Listserv with the article below, and we wanted to share it on the blog too. His piece examines the fear we feel sometimes have around engaging in dialogue that could shift our stance on strongly-felt issues. He points out that for many average people, the idea of dialogue with “the other side” presents a risk – maybe real, maybe imagined – that allowing our opinions to shift might hurt some of our important relationships.
John’s article prompts us dialogue workers to take seriously what it sometimes means for us to ask people to take a risk like that, and it asks us how we can demonstrate that the risk is worth the reward. We encourage you to read John’s article below (original here) and let us know what you think about his questions in the comments section.


Guns, Changes of Mind, and the Cost of Dialogue

My opinion on government gun policy is starting to shift. That shift fills me with dread – and the reason, I think, may say a lot about why dialogue is such a hard sell.

Let’s start with my own biases. Temperamentally, I am as close to pacifist as you can get without actually being pacifist. Guns hold no appeal for me whatever (beyond the curiosity I have about pretty much everything). I grew up on Bambi. For most of my life, then, my thoughts on gun control were pretty much a default on the pro side.

But recent events have nudged me into more reflection. My experiments with gun dialogue (last month and in 2012) put me in contact with gun owners and their stories about why they value their guns, the enjoyment of pursuits associated with guns, the security they feel in owning a gun and knowing how to use it. Moreover, after pondering the Second Amendment, I can see how the standard gun owner’s interpretation may have some merit.

Bottom line: I can still support commonsense measures like background checks and waiting periods. But now, whenever cries to reduce gun ownership permeate the public square, I can’t quite join in – as much as my Bambi instinct still wants me to.

But this post is not about guns. It’s about why the shift scares me.

There are several reasons, but one towers above them all: some of the most important people in my social network – dear friends, immediate relatives, colleagues who might influence the course of my career – are vociferously anti-gun. I can think of a family member whose wisdom and love I would not do without… a colleague whose family has suffered several murders due to gun violence… a Catholic writer who shares many of my sensibilities but whose wrath grows with each mass shooting.

Will they abandon me now that I’m expressing a different opinion, even if just slightly different?

You might argue that it’s unlikely, and you’d probably be right. But in our current culture, friends and colleagues do part ways over disagreements like this. Consider the “harmonious” traditional family that fractures when a daughter comes out as gay, or good neighbors who find themselves on opposing sides when a casino comes to town. The notion that “if they abandon you over this, they weren’t real friends (or colleagues, or loved ones) anyway” is far too simplistic.

Now consider that I feel this dread strongly enough to hold my tongue around certain people – and I’m a dialogue person. How can I expect folks who are unfamiliar with dialogue to enter in when the risk is so high: when they might lose not only their basic convictions, but even their friends? How can those of us who care deeply about dialogue demonstrate that, in fact, the reward is worth the risk?

You can find the original version of this piece by John Backman on his blog at www.dialogueventure.com/2016/01/12/guns-changes-of-mind-and-the-cost-of-dialogue.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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