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April 1996

TAO of Dialogue


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Originally published in UniS (The UniS Institute), April 1996


A few words to express my own frustration that, whilst there may be a certain velocity to what I can do, the question of the adequacy of the acceleration needed to escape the conceptual gravity well is a matter of concern.

There are so many velocity-bound do-able things, that those with a significant acceleration to them are easily lost to sight.

As to dialogue, I am back into my reflections on the equivalent of a golf handicap. To be provocative, I now suggest structuring this along the lines of the symbol of the Tao and its various components --perhaps inspired by the famous Zen ox-herding pictures.

The idea would be to take elements out of the Tao symbol and allocate them to various levels of dialogue, along lines similar to the following:

  1. lowest level of dialogue: to be described in terms of the self satisfaction of a viewpoint which considers itself complete. Symbol a black or white circle. The white for those standing for perfection and ideals — this view is right. The black for those standing for pragmatism and realpolitik — doing whatever it takes. At this level each essentially treats the other as irrelevant — mutually exclusive circles.

  2. the white knights now pursue the black knights: in this dialogue each is very aware of the other. The whites see the blacks as the unbelievers to be converted. The blacks see the whites as marks to be conned. Each seeks out the other — there is a form of predator-prey co-dependency which neither would acknowledge. Here lies the tragedy of the commons? Each circle is drawn into its elongated blobby, "aerodynamic" shape — one starting to pursue the other as in the Tao symbol — but not yet bound together

  3. a sense of system: dialogue now recognizes the importance of the other within a system. Emphasis is placed on unity-and-diversity. However there remains confusion as to the meaning of each, with a stress on my unity tolerating your intransigence. The two parts of the symbol now touch and are held together, but the nature of the circular boundary is as yet tenuous

  4. firming of the boundaries: dialogue now recognizes that we are stuck with each other, like it or not. We have to live together in the same neighborhood or on the same planet — or in the same household. The outer circle of the symbol takes form.

  5. limitation: although we have to live together, my side is definitely "up" and the other is definitely "down". My side has to educate yours and I will learn through the frustrations of that experience — but not by adopting any perspective from the other. I learn the limitations of my own perspective. The black eye in the white portion of the symbol opens.

  6. relativity: there are situations in which I recognize the value in the perspective of the other, in areas to which my own is not sensitive — but this does not deny the value of my perspective. Although it is "dark" and uncomfortable, there is found to be a kernel of unexpected validity. The white eye in the black portion of the symbol opens.

  7. uncertainty: for the dialogue to move forward, both parts are needed — as in the process of walking on two legs or using two wings to fly. Each movement by one side is subject to necessary correction by the other — creative co-dependency for survival and thrival. Definitiveness is challenged — such as the effort by the right leg to go off on its own. The unexpected is to be expected. In contrast to the previous stage, whilst acknowledging that I do have valuable understandings, the other holds truths which may call these into question under certain circumstances — I depend on the other in areas in which I may discover that I am blind. The symbol of the Tao takes on a movement, or becomes the expression of movement.

Of course the above is an especially good reflection of the limitations of my own understanding. Hopefully you can sharpen the contrasts or play with them in other ways.

My point would be that whilst dialogue between levels must occur, that at the higher levels needs to be strengthened and given credibility.

But what does this say about the nature of future dialogues? The question of the mix, the inclusions, the exclusions and the fortuitous all remain.


Anthony Judge:

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