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By Barbara McDowall

'Dialogue is the most important tool we have to repair the difficulties in our world right now. We must learn compassion not just for those we love, but also for those who are our enemies or those with whom we fundamentally disagree. We can best do this through dialogue.'
~ The Dalai Lama

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dialogue as 'an exchange of ideas and opinions; a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution.' Debate, on the other hand, comes from the Old French, from de- + batre to beat.  You might remember the federal leaders' debate during the most recent Canadian election.  What you might have witnessed was an excellent example of mean spirited combativeness and disrespect.  Little of it was helpful in learning more about the issues for which these men stood - issues that will significantly affect each one of us.

Almost from the dawn of time, the world has been a violent and warring place.  As individuals and nations, we can and often do fundamentally disagree with each other.  Rarely is there room for compromise or understanding.  The solution over and over again has led us to violence and wars.  According to psychologist, Rollo May, we have been and continue to practice insanity - doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. 

'The greatest single antidote to violence (or any disagreement) is conversation, speaking our greatest single fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.'
~ Jonathan Sacks in Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations

Here are some tips I would like to share for creating successful dialogue.

a) Be present - keep your thoughts on the present without attachment to the past or to a future outcome
b) Actively listen - listen with a clear intention and caring to understand, to hear what is really being said.
c) Follow a clear set of guidelines/rules of the road - ensure that the space for safe sharing is intentionally created with clearly stated guidelines for effective communication that encourage respectful listening, compassion and understanding. e.g. we will only use respectful language or we will agree to disagree
d) Be aware of the language used - is it uplifting or harmful; does it include or exclude; is it respectful?  If it is not uplifting, inclusive or respectful, change it.
e) Apply any one of the 6 defined templates for conscious living listed below

1.  A Course in Miracles tells us there is only love and fear (False Evidence Appearing Real). 

Fear is really illusion.  Communication is either an expression of love or a cry for it.  What we often hear are the cries for love that may challenge our ability to love unconditionally in response.  But love we must.  Be mindful of what you are about to say.  Ask yourself if what you are about to say will uplift or will it undermine and contribute to an end to communication, to connection.  Will it be divisive?  Ask for Divine guidance in seeing it in a different way allowing you to remain in communication with that person.  Miracles happen when we shift our thinking from separation to connection.

2.  The Eight-Fold Path of Buddhism talks about the conscious use of:

Right Speech - do not gossip, ell lies or hurt others with your words
Right Intent - think of others at all times
Right Conduct - behave in a way that will hurt no one
Right Mindfulness - always be aware of what you are doing and thinking
Right Livelihood - do not do any job that will hurt any living being
Right Effort - get rid of those things, which produce less than good in you
Right Concentration - stop worrying and being jealous of others
Right View - see life as it is

3.  The Golden Rule

Don't do to anyone what you wouldn't want done to you

4.  The Prayer of St. Francis

Make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, unity.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is error, truth.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Where there is darkness, light.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.

For it is in the giving that we receive.  It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned.  It is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

5.  The lives of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and other great spiritual teachers 

If all you ever did was to emulate the life of just one of these inspiring people, your life would be transformed and transforming.

6.  The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements tells us there are really only 4 agreements we need to make in our lives. 

Be impeccable with your word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.  Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't take anything personally
Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't make assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.  With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.

'Our friends may test our patience now and then, bur rarely do they challenge us to grow our goodness the way an enemy does.'
~ Mary Manin Morrissey, of The Living Enrichment Center

Throughout our lives, we will meet people or situations we may not agree with.  We can choose to be proactive in our interactions with others that allow us to continue to dialogue, learn more about our commonality that allow us to make decisions that are respectful, compassionate and understanding.

Never before has there been a more pressing need for respectful, compassionate dialogue in healing our planet.  We need it in our personal lives and as a global community.  The world is in need of a new way of being, of interacting with one another.  Everything we say, think, and do counts.  By changing one thought, one action, one word in our personal world (microcosm), we shift the energy globally (macrocosm). We become aligned with our God self.  And so it is within our power to change the world through our thoughts, words and actions.

How might your relationships and your world view change, if you were to actively listen to someone?  What would happen if you consciously applied communication guidelines/rules of the road to your interactions? How would the awareness of language ensure ongoing, productive conversation?  What might happen if you applied a template for conscious living such as The Four Agreements to your life? 

Be the change you seek in the world; take the first step to finding new ways to encourage dialogue/communication in all your relationships, personal and professional.  What action will you take, and if so, when?

Authentic Living