The Seven Stages of Deep-Dialogue
By Paul Mojzes and Leonard Swidler
Outlined below are seven stages that many people experience in the process of dialogue with other religions and cultures.
Stage One: Radical Encountering of Difference
Early encounters with those of other religions are inherently challenging and even threatening as I face a new worldview, a new way of interpreting reality, and new ways of responding that are clearly other. I am tempted to appropriate the other to my own worldview. I soon realize that this disruption to my worldview and ways of responding won’t go away, nor will it accommodate my own worldview and ways of responding. I may be tempted to withdraw from the situation, only to discover that my place in society may not allow for such withdrawal. The decision to proceed moves me on into the second stage.
Stage Two: Crossing Over — Letting Go and Entering the World of the Other
As I make the decision to engage the world of the other sincerely, I find myself called to explore, to learn anew, and to reassess my norms regarding adequate and appropriate expressions of values, and to critique my traditional attitudes. I find that I need to approach the new worldview with openness and a bracketing of my stereotypes and prejudices. As I do this, I find myself moving into stage three.
Stage Three: Inhabiting and Experiencing the World of the Other
The experience of empathy and interest then expands into a sense of freedom that opens doors to learn many things from this other world: what is of greatest importance, modalities of interaction, what causes suffering to those in this world. As I experiment with integrating ways of thinking and acting in light of my discoveries, I sense an excitement and a deepening relationship with those of this world. At a certain point, after I have gained some competence in negotiating this environment, I discover that this is not my true home. This moves me into the fourth stage.
Stage Four: Crossing Back with an Expanded Vision
The new knowledge I have gained in alternative ways of thinking and acting is now part of my repertoire as I regain my sense of belonging in my own world. I am able to think and act from both perspectives as the context may require. My own sense of identity has deepened, has changed, and no matter what choices I freely make to believe and to act, I can no longer assume that my former unilateral way of being in the world is the only way. My attitudes and concerns are irrevocably reshaped to hold the other in view, in relationship. This moves me into stage five.
Stage Five: The Dialogic Awakening — A Radical Paradigm Shift
I experience a profound shift in my worldview as well as expanded consciousness of concerns and needs and causes of dysfunction in world realities and viable ways of human response. I can no longer return to my former worldview that did not have a place for this other. Further, I am irrevocably shaped to the possibility that there is a plurality of viable worldviews, concerns, and human responses. This changes my sense of myself. I become aware of the interconnectedness of myself and many/all others, including Earth and all her needs and potentials. This awakening is what moves me into the sixth stage.
Stage Six: Global Awakening — The Paradigm Shift Matures
This stage of Deep-Dialogue opens me to the common ground that underlies the multiple worlds with which I am surrounded. I can perceive that the unique differences essential to these worlds are contained in a field of unity. My own inner world is now apparent as a range of perspectives and unique to myself. I am increasingly open to dialogue with others in my various communities of life, to a transformed relationship with them and an embrace of the context in which these communities are situated. There is for me an expanding world of communities of life with greater potential for ongoing dialogue, new learning, and deepened relationships. This moves me to stage seven.
Stage Seven: Personal and Global Transforming of Life and Behaviour
One of the most significant transformations that has taken place on this journey is a greater and more encompassing moral consciousness and ensuing practice. The communion that I experience with all — self, others, and the Earth — is profound. I sense that my care for myself, instead of being in competition with concerns for the welfare of other realities, is integral to the care of the whole. As I come to deeper self-realization and greater self-fulfillment, I experience deeper meaning in relationships and in my whole life.
Paul Mojzes is an American professor of religious studies.
Leonard Swidler is an American professor of ecumenical and interfaith studies.
Dialogue is not Debate
Debate is oppositional: two or more sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong. Dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward a common understanding.
In debate one searches for the other positions flaws and weaknesses. In dialogue one searches for strengths in the other position.
Debate creates a closed-minded attitude, a determition to be right. Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude, an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
In debate winning is the goal; in dialogue finding common ground is the goal.
Debate defends one's position as the best solution and excludes other positions. Dialogue opens up the possibility of reaching a better solutions than any of the original solutions.
Debate assumes there is a right answer and that someone has it. Dialogue assumes many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution.
Debate implies conclusion. Dialogue remains open-ended.
Nine Guidelines for Listening to Others
These guidelines were developed by Kay Lindahl, the founder of the Listening Center in Laguan Niguel, California. Kay is also the chairperson of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN).
We include these guidelines here because listening is so vital to any form of dialogue, including interfaith dialogue. These guidelines are designed to facilitate healthy dialogue and deep listening and to create a safe space for meaningful conversation on all levels:
- WHEN YOU ARE LISTENING, SUSPEND ASSUMPTIONS – What we assume is often invisible to us. We assume that others have had the same experiences that we have, and that is how we listen to them. Learn to recognize assumptions by noticing when you get upset or annoyed by something someone else is saying. You may be making an assumption. Let it be – suspend it – and resume listening for understanding of the other.
- WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING, EXPRESS YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSE – informed by your tradition, beliefs and practices as you have interpreted them in your life. Speak for yourself. Use "I' language. Take ownership of what you say. Speak from your heart. Notice how often the phrases "We all", "of course", "everyone says", "you know", come into your conversation. The only person you can truly speak for is yourself.
- LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGMENT – The purpose of dialogue is to come to an understanding of the other, not to determine whether they are good, bad, right or wrong. If you are sitting there thinking: 'That's good", 'That's bad", "I like that" "I don't like that", then you are having a conversation in your own mind, rather than listening to the speaker. Simply notice when you do this, and return to being present with the speaker.
- SUSPEND STATUS – Everyone is an equal partner in the inquiry. There is no seniority or hierarchy. All are colleagues with a mutual quest for insight and clarity. You are each an expert in your life. That is what you bring to the dialogue process.
- HONOUR CONFIDENTIALITY – Leave the names of participants in the room so if you share stories or ideas, no one's identity will be revealed. Create a safe space for self-expression.
- LISTEN FOR UNDERSTANDING, NOT TO AGREE WITH OR BELIEVE – You do not have to agree with or believe anything that is said. Your job is to listen for understanding.
- ASK CLARIFYING OR OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS to assist your understanding and to explore assumptions.
- HONOUR SILENCE AND TIME FOR REFLECTION – Notice what wants to be said rather than what you want to say.
- ONE PERSON SPEAKS AT A TIME – Pay attention to the flow of the conversation. Notice what patterns emerge from the group. Make sure that each person has an opportunity to speak, while knowing that no one is required to speak.