Autobiography precedes Productive Dialogue

Had a conversation recently that suggested that conversations about contested issues, if they are to be productive, should begin with an expression of who we are and what we care about. This seems to be an incredibly important point. Everything that I have been hitting on here, here, and here has been getting at the importance of expressing who we are and what we care about while we dialogue.

There’s something, however, that I was missing in those posts. The point of getting at these identity and value questions is not just that it clears away distortions in our reasoning. Answering these identity and value questions also engenders a sense of trust amongst interlocutors, a trust that is essential in  discussing arguments that will have weight once the conversation is over.

There’s an interesting question about how we’ve wound up having these sorts of conversations in which epistemic matters precede questions of identity and value. In a sense, these sorts of conversations seem inorganic and they may be the result of the structure of our communities and the result of failure to introspect. Here’s what I mean when I say they’re inorganic: back when we were cave folk, we lived in tight-knit communities. In these close communities, it was clearer who everyone was and what everyone cared about, and since these questions were at least partially answered, productive dialogue may have been more forthcoming.

This, perhaps, explains the efficaciousness of some of Jesus’ arguments in convincing folk back in ancient times. It has always struck me how opposing interlocutors would just concede argumentative victory to Jesus, but this is not so mysterious anymore. Jesus and his interlocutors were a part of the same community with similar values and a similar identity. With this similarity and understanding comes a sense of trust and a sense of the bindingness of valid argumentation.

This, moreover, explains why we get a lot further in terms of productive dialogue when interlocutors perceive each other as working from within the same paradigm. Productively results not merely because mutual working within a paradigm leaves certain uncomfortable assumptions unchallenged. Productivity results because working within the same paradigm leads interlocutors to think that they have similar values and therefore, can be trusted not to mislead each other.

The trick to this realization, then, is to find out how to best express our identity and our values. Our expression must be sincere. It must be relatable. It must also, because of time constraints be brief, so a question arises: What would such an expression look like for me?

This expression, I think, should take the form of narrative. Thus, I think that I should spend some time working on autobiographical expressions of my identity and value to be used at the outset of conversations that I want to be productive (which is all of them of course)…and that’s probably what I’ll attempt to do in the next couple posts.

This is exciting! If I can succeed at telling a good story about who I am, I can be one step closer to productive dialogue, and productive dialogue is where its at! I want to be a part of conversations that get me closer to the Divine, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

p.s. there’s a maxim that sums up everything I’ve learned here: Its best to seek the truth with friends, and friends are just people who know a little bit about who I am and what I care about. That reminds me of a Hume quotation: “Truth is found in disagreement amongst friends.”

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