Taking flight: the Dialogue method and Quaker practices. – Abigail Garbett

‘Dia’ and ‘logos’ The dialogue method has a long history with evidence to suggest people have been meeting in small groups to talk together since the time of hunter-gatherer societies (Bohm et al., 1991, p. 1). However, in modern Western culture the method has been marginalised in favour of more rational conversation structures such as debate. Dialogue questions the validity of purely rational thinking which does not openly acknowledge the ways our thinking is conditioned and biased through previous thoughts and cultural experiences. The root meaning of the word debate is to ‘beat down’ and the purpose of such an exchange is usually to defend one view against another. As a result, deeper inquiry and collective intelligence is not achieved. By contrast, the word dialogue is composed of ‘dia’ and ‘logos’ which together means ‘flow through’, suggesting a free flow of inquiry in which new possibilities can emerge (Isaacs, 1993, p. 24).

The dialogue method is particularly powerful in potential high-energy, conflict situations in which consensus may otherwise be sought. Seeking consensus focuses on outcomes which are the most logically acceptable to the majority by rationally limiting options. Rather than considering the underlying assumptions and patterns of thought that may have led to the disagreement in the first place, the purpose is to find a solution which all members can accept. The outcome is usually not entirely satisfactory as participants tend to hold on to their own beliefs and collective understanding is not explored. Rather than seeking consensus, dialogue looks below the surface with the aim of gaining insight into fundamental assumptions and why they arise. It requires a higher level of consciousness which is built up through the process turning in together to talk openly on topics that arise. Through the lived experience of thinking collectively in the moment, tacit knowledge may emerge. However, in order to reach this point a cooling process must take place. Participants should be supported to slow down inquiry, suspend assumptions, listen attentively and observe thought patterns more consciously within the container of the dialogue.

Taking flight: the Dialogue method and Quaker practices. – Abigail Garbett