Friday, October 26, 2007

And the next step is? by Michael

First of all I would like to apologize for not responding right away to the comments people have made. I do appreciate them and as soon as I get back home, I will respond to each one individually. Please do not take offense at this. I am very glad that each of you found some time to read the postings and respond.

As the conference ended I can’t stop thinking about what happens next. Truth be told this is what I was thinking even before I boarded the plane to Rome. This weekend I will get back to my daily routine that has a very good tendency to overwhelm and dictate the rules. What happens then? What happens to the blog? I was asked to blog about my experiences at the conference, but the conference is over and a week or two later it will become history.

I strongly tried to avoid blogging about sightseeing for a very specific reason. If I asked you to tell me how the chocolate tastes, would you be able to do it? You would tell me to try a piece and find out on my own. There is no way I can describe the Sistine Chapel or the Trevi Fountain. If somebody says they can, they have never seen them not in the pictures. I could name all the paintings, tell you their history and name their creators, but it all will be useless. If you list me all the ingredients and the proportions of a lemon pie, I still would not be able to taste it, without making it and trying it. I can say that Sistine Chapel is astonishing, overwhelming, magnificent, but I can’t describe to you why I couldn’t leave it for one hour. The only reason I left is because I could have missed the conference bus, and probably it would be worth missing.

Thinking about this, I start to wonder how I can talk about the dialogue. I can find hundreds of quotes on dialogue by the best minds in the world, and yet I will not know what it is until I engage in one. I never knew how much I would miss playing tennis before I learned to play on a decent level. Now, the one thing I look forward to when I come back is picking up that racquet.

I think I start to understand why it is so hard to have a dialogue, because not a lot of people know the pleasure of agreeing with another, feeling how better you have become. Dialogue is not about winning or being right, but about becoming of better character after having one.

So, where does this leave me? In a great state of confusion. When I think about a dialogue and how to have it, the author who comes to mind is Plato. But that was many years ago. How many students can name a book, from the top of their head that taught them how to engage and have a meaningful dialogue? I am not one of them.

When was the last time somebody said let’s have a political dialogue? Never. It is impossible to have a political dialogue - only debate. Who ever has changed their mind in a debate? In schools or colleges are we even taught what dialogue is and how to have it, and I am not referring to a philosophy course that most of us slept through. Instead we have debate clubs and teams. Who even knows what a dialogue is anymore? I know for a fact that it is not just a conversation between two people. It is so much more. So how do I engage people into something I know almost nothing about?

I cheer myself thinking that I am not the only one who is having this problem. Leaders and intellectuals can lead countries, motivate people, create breathtaking experiences and yet, when it is time for a dialogue, they lose it in efforts of trying to prove their own points.

What are we doing wrong then?


K. Kinnard said...

I agree with you when you say that people do not focus on the actual dialogue but they tend to concentrate on whether they are right or wrong. We, as humans, are so focused on our own opinions that we have trouble listening to the opinions of others. I think that before dialogue can truly happen, people must admit that mabye they don't know everything. Once this occurs, dialogue of any kind (interreligious, political, or social)have a much greater chance of success.

Michael said...

Thank you for the post. For people to admit that they are wrong requires a great amount of confidence. People who do not know a thing tend to be the most opinionated about the whole wide world. Hearing themselves arguing is a huge confidence boost. It is easier to argue about what one doesn't know then reading a book and learning something.

Katie R said...

I have to admit that I have always avoided debate (and by extension, I suppose dialogue as well), because I tend to feel that I lose something if I don't manage to prove my point, or bring people to my point of view. I don't think I've ever really considered that maybe that's not what the point truly is. But like you said, it's not about winning or being right, but bettering yourself. Thank you for pointing this out.

J. Marra said...

Hi Michael! Thank you so much for posting all these insights about your trip. It is really nice to read about. You have many good insights which are intriguing to read. I agree with you when you said that there are just some things you can explain to a person. It is hard to explain something that was very powerful to see, feel, or taste to someone with only words. Also, I agree that people have trouble focusing on dialogue. I think that a person has to be honest with others in order to have a dialogue. If a person is honest, they can admit they do not know everything and will be more open to listening to what others have to say.

bubbles said...

I think you are right about people not understanding the true concept of dialogue. I, my self, am not completely sure. All we are taught is how to argue (debate) and that winning is everything. The world we live in is very competitive. It would be great if people were taught how to listen to one another and that winning isn't everything.

morgan m, said...

After reading you post I realized how we are never really taught to dialogue. I didn't realize how much emphasis is put on winning, being right, and persuasion. nothing is ever really accomplished or learned when the goal is to win over anothers opinions and life experiences. I'm glad that strives are being taken to change this in the Xavier Community and the world as a whole.

ASeyalioglu said...

First of all I just want to say that I’m really happy for you and Maggie to been able to go on a trip like this. Also, I totally agree on the fact that it is complicated to have any type of dialogue with people. We are so caught up in our own opinions that any kind of disagreement turns into more of a argument then a discussion. Our dialogues should not be about who is right or wrong but instead have us understand and respect each other's opinions and ideas.

A. Hamann said...

I agree with you when you say that people do not really listen when others talk. Their main focus is whether the topic of discussion agrees or disagrees with their personal views. With this kind of attitude it is hard to become a more insightful person because you have a one-track mind set. I think that before a "good" dialogue can take place each person must go into the conversation being as honest as possible and telling each other what they really feel. Once this happens the dialogue has a greater chance of prospering and setting a foundation for debate.

k. justin said...

I think i can agree with you when you say people don't find plesure in agreeing with others. Since childhood we are told to speak our mind and let it be heard. I don't recall my mother ever telling me to back down and just agree with what everyone else says. I think this is why we have some trouble with dialouge. We all want to be right but that is not always going to happen.

GreisM said...

It is indeed very difficult to begin a dialogue without letting it become a debate. Too often people dont listen, they simply wait for their chance to be heard, and even if that is cordial, it is advancing nothing. Also, I think it is extremely wise to have refrained from blogging about sightseeing. While Ive never been one to enjoy someone's description of someplace else, it wasnt until I read this and stopped to think about it that I realized quite why those descriptions are so lacking.

Tony said...

First of all I think it is wonderful what you guys are doing because dialogue between religions is fantastic. Also I really enjoyed reading your distinction between debate and dialogue. You are right no one wins in a debate because it is impossible to make the opposing side agree. But with dialogue it is possible for two sides to at least agree to be different but not against each other.

millers3 said...

This problem that confronts you confronts many. I really enjoyed your examples about your experiences and how you are relating them to the dialogs. I would love to hear more from your point of view about how some of the dialog worked out. Thanks for making this blog, it is an amazing view into something that can only be experienced first-hand.

elisabeth said...

I want to thank you for your interest in this subject and your action in going across the world to hear the important words of the leaders of the world. I really admire your work and thank you for openning our eyes to the importance of open dialogue between groups no matter how important or influential the groups may be. I think this open dialogue is definitely a step in the right direction as it exposes the world to its ignorance. Ignorance is really the root of all problems and with help from open dialogue, we can be better able to eradicate ignorace from the world as it plagues all who live in it. Thank you for showing us the importance of listening, like really listening, to each other.

Michael said...

Thank you for all the comments. I hope that this dialogue can continue in the future. I encourage everyone to send me a brief e-mail at to continue the discussion. Below are my individual responses to the comments that were made.

Katie R,

Would you be interested in having a dialogue now? The whole idea of dialogue is that both sides win something. Shall we try to have such dialogue on Xavier’s campus?

J. Marra,

Do you think honesty is a virtue that a lot of people do not have? People often hide in lies to avoid sad reality. People often hide from dialogue to avid the possibility of learning something without proving something.


You are not alone; I am not sure on what the dialogue is either. But that is exactly what I want to learn. Any thoughts on what steps we should take to do so?

Morgan M,

Are you striving to learn more about the art of a dialogue? Me too. I realize how important the dialogue is but I am not quite sure on where to turn to learn about it.


Why do you think most of the discussions end with arguments and even fights?

A. Hammann,

Have we ever thought about having a conversation with ourselves? What would it mean to understand yourself? In Eastern world this concept is commonly referred to as meditation. May be dialogue should start with a meditation?


Imagine being in a room where everyone is right, there will not be a lot of dialogue. Perhaps the concept of being right is very misleading. How can we be right in our views or opinions? I have my opinion, you have your opinion, how can we ever know which one is right and which one is wrong?


I have the same attitude toward listening to other people’s descriptions of a certain location. The question is how do you share what you felt with others if you know that they will never have a chance to see what you saw.


What do you think can motivate us to talk to each other and not at each other?


I would love to share what I learned and observed. Would you be interested in organizing a discussion on the subject of interreligious dialogue? E-mail me at


How can we learn to listen to each other?