Catalytic Conversation, a Concentric Approach to Dialogue
There is a vacuum of attention as we persist in focusing on our perceived problems.
We are trapped within our confusion that arises around our conceptions of clarity. We arrive at clarity. It cannot be manufactured.
How can we find/create a portal, a place through which we might pass and come together in dialogue?
I finally got a hold of a copy of Bohm's On Dialogue. My local librarian, after not knowing how to spell dialogue – keying dialog into the search engine in the Ocean State Library System, and only finding the book's German translation…. Just another sign of how deep and broad our level of incompetence has become.
She was able to locate only 350 copies in libraries throughout the country, maybe even farther afield. This was a sobering realization. Bohm's work hides in plain sight, but I hadn't realized how rare it actually turns out to be! The book is in many ways a rather quaint artifact. It seems tied to its time in a way that Bohm's YouTube presence seems to transcend more easily, even though the grainy, yellowed seventies film-to-video quality, and his cardigan sweaters and old fashioned diction, would tie them to that pre-Reagan moment when there was a brief and fleeting prospect that something serious might be in the offing. Think of it as though here was a really intelligent and enlightened Jimmy Carter! Still, the core of Bohm's insight is there to be seen. It comes down to understanding proprioception and then engaging in dialogue; with one's self, with a few others, within larger groups. This latter option seems to have been central to whatever "movement" began to coalesce around his work in his lifetime. That is the part that, to me, seems trapped in his time, a sort of EST meets all the other confrontation societies that sprang up in the seventies. Still, the potential value is there, even in that.
As I've been imagining a way to embody dialogue, it would take place within a series of concentric rings. In the center there would be a conversation taking place among two or three people. Surrounding them would be a ring of others who participated by asking questions or making comments. Around them would be a larger group of, let's call them spectators.
On discussing this with two of my dialogue partners, Johnnie Moore and Declan Elliot, Declan suggested that this outer group be considered as a permeable layer in which the focused attention of the center met the ignorance and apathy of the wider world. As with the edge of any crowd gathered around some locus of interest, it would be a portal – another, along with vacuum, of Declan's provocative and suggestive terms. It would be a way for people to transition, from acquaintance and apprenticeship, on to either going elsewhere or finding themselves drawn in to a more active participation. They might find their way in towards the center of this ring of attention, or they might set-off and begin another locus of their own. I do think this changes the flavor of Bohm's groups-of-fifty style of dialogue in a possibly useful way. We've all,* in our conversations, been preparing for what I've half glimpsed as the kinds of conversations that could be at the center of such an event. It's also become clear, and in this Bohm's own simple encouragement to enter into and maintain dialogue, as much as possible, in as many ways as possible; has been a welcome reminder, that, for dialogue to work it requires a serious investment of time and attention – a conviction I share and find ever more important! I want to use this opportunity to encourage us to broaden, deepen, and intensify the kinds of dialogue we join into, with each other, and with others. I would like to ask that we put our efforts into finding ways to make this happen and to follow where this focus of attention leads us. Reading Bohm, I am struck by his all-encompassing intelligence and the simplicity of spirit he maintained. I was alive and thinking during those years, though so much younger and so far from finding any possibility to do more than flail about within so many layers of confusion. But in those days, as my own intuitions at the time were also whispering to me, he was so clear about where this was all leading. He was so far from being trapped by the conventions and conditioning of his own time. Reading On Dialogue now becomes something like receiving a plaintive message across this gap of time, of warnings unheeded, and chances let slip by.
Beyond this, there is also a strong sense that none of that matters now. That here is a way to step clear of the reactions of regret, paralysis, or anger we might otherwise fall into. In short, please find this slim volume and read it.
Bohm relates through anthropological evidence to the way some tribal groups found a common mind through long and repeated conversation. They developed a deep rapport that goes beyond negotiation or any desire to manufacture consensus.
The key points I take form this are that community is the result of commitment and investment. Both of these are valued and measured by the attention we bestow on what they ask of us. Their rewards include the possibility of finding truly creative action that allows us to evolve.
In the end, this is a matter of decision, perhaps the only decision we can truly make, or that really has any meaning.
*This was a first pass at voicing a series of hunches that have been coalescing around a way to practice dialogue today. This was how it came together in an e-mail I shared with Declan and Johnnie, and also Christian Ford and Jeppe Dyrendom Graugaard.
These four have joined me in various efforts within a series of overlapping conversations that all start and end with our regard for the value of dialogue. By way of various serendipitous events we have found that we share an abiding concern for the centrality of this process if we are to find a way forward today.
Here and now, I am engaged in articulating steps that might help take these hunches and develop them into interactions among people gathered together in a place that welcomes, nurtures, and supports such a process.
This involves focusing attention on what these people bring to this endeavor, as well as articulating some sort of statement that might help others see where this effort is headed.
Why can't this be a straightforward thing?
Maybe someday such a thing can be. For now, the problem is that we are conditioned to expect and desire that someone manufacture clarity for us. We are almost incapable of looking upon what can never be more than a modest intent and not see, instead, some directive, a manifesto to be followed – or resisted.
There are two imperatives that demand my attention and guide the ways I go about what I do. The first is that I avoid the easy pitfalls of putting forth gathered, accumulated "insights" displayed in a form that is ripe for harvesting and regurgitation. I resist creating fodder for yet another run after solutions and gathering others about an idea or a leader. The second imperative is that any expression, if it is to read true in this holographic universe with its implicate order, needs to itself be holographic in nature, and tendered with the weight of its implications.
This is not even "retail" thinking – let alone "wholesale" – "customized" to appeal to a certain audience, but an intimate and vulnerable act of what I've called – and have found that Declan also uses this curious phrase to describe it as, "talking out loud."
The pointing hand so easily draws our attention not to what it is aimed at, but to itself. Ease of comprehension, beyond a certain basic level of necessity, is actually counterproductive. What is too easily digested is too easily taken as a means to some other end, instead of our recognizing it as just one of the many steps, one after another, that take us from where we are to wherever we are going.
So, in this, in what might be expected to require no more than a simple explanation of how such a gathering might be organized,
"You three, sit there!"
"The next eight, form a circle around them!"
"Anyone else who cares to watch and listen, gather around!"
Instead we have a rather tortured path, filled with ellipses, and almost random-seeming thoughts arranged as they arrived, and leading to what?
Perhaps this might bring us to some inkling of its meaning?
That there is great weight, a weight of seriousness and sincerity in this. But also that it is accompanied by an extreme lightness. A willingness to leave as much unsaid as said. All in the hopes of inspiring a gathering of insights that this statement might catalyze. Not direct. Not order. But that you might find something inside yourself that responds to this ramble, and something in it might move you to add your attention to this question at hand.