Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a Cornerstone class that is role playing its way through Don’t Stop Believing. Four people address the topic of each chapter, with two representing a modern conservative viewpoint and two arguing for a postmodern innovator perspective. They looked like they were having fun, and it was a special treat for me to see the book come alive in this way.
During my part of the class, I mentioned something that we have discussed on this blog—that a genuine conversation requires that both parties openly and honestly declare what they believe, and then agree to respectfully talk about it. If this is true, then it is impossible to value conversation more than finding the truth (as some Emergents say), for a genuine dialogue assumes that both sides are committed to discovering and sharing the truth.
One student raised a good question. He said that he has had teachers in the past who intentionally refused to tell him what they believed about a specific subject so that he would have to study the issue for himself. To this day he does not know what they believe about the subject, and so his view remains unhampered by their biases.
We thought together out loud in a couple of back and forth responses (a genuine dialogue), and then came to the conclusion that while his mentors may have been using a good teaching technique (up to a point, depending on the importance of the subject in question), they had not yet engaged him in genuine conversation. They were treating him as an unequal partner, as someone who was unable to handle the burden of knowing their views.
After a day of reflecting on the student’s question and my response, here is my initial conclusion and application.
Conclusion: real conversation among peers requires that both sides respect the other enough to openly and honestly express their views.
Application: to the extent that speakers or writers intentionally obscure their beliefs, to that extent they are not respecting their audience enough to enter into a genuine dialogue, regardless of how many times they use the term “conversation.” If you read a book and, through no fault of your own, cannot tell what the author believes about his subject, you can be sure that the author has been talking down to you rather than with you.