Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation – An Introduction

This is an introduction to a series of essays that will explore “Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation,” which we might also refer to as “Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation,” or “Disagreeing (and Agreeing) with Civility.”

The initial purpose of this writing, which will undoubtedly evolve as the essays unfold, is to become increasingly better able to deeply listen to others, and authentically express ourselves, in ways that foster understanding, appreciation and respect for everyone who is present, and everyone who is not. With some few exceptions, “we” seem to have lost the ability to disagree with each other without engaging in personal insult, labeling and sweeping generalizations. We also seem to have lost the ability to agree with each other without engaging in personal insult, labeling and sweeping generalizations directed toward those who are not present, with whom we disagree.

This loss of ability (or lack of skill, or chosen laziness, or…) is evident among just about anyone who wishes the world were different, who knows who’s to blame for how it is, and who’s sure that he or she is not part of the problem, but rather a victim, a prospective savior, or both. I had initially begun listing specific groups (elected officials, news commentators, etc.) after the word “among,” and then realized the list would be too long and inevitably incomplete. So, whether you believe that Conservative Republican Fascists, Liberal Democrat Commies, Independent Infidels or some combination of these are to blame for everything that’s wrong, YOU are part of the problem. That sentence is an example of what these essays will argue against doing.

“Adult,” as used in this essay, refers to several specific characteristics that, while they may require a certain chronological age, are available to folks across a spectrum of ages. The word, again, as used here, may refer to folks who see the world through a “traditional” religious worldview, a “modern” scientific worldview, a “postmodern” egalitarian worldview, a “post-postmodern” integral worldview and beyond, or some blend of these. That is to say that “adulthood” refers as much to how one holds beliefs as to what one believes.

There are other ways to define “adult”; I will continue to clarify how I’m using the word as these writings unfold. Cutting to the chase, the guidelines (which will be explored in detail in subsequent essays) include, but are not limited to:

  • Getting to know yourself and your worldview – your values, beliefs and biases, and what experiences and other learnings inform them, and committing to this as an ongoing, lifelong process.
  • Related to the above, recognizing and suspending your preconceptions, judgments and assumptions;
  • Avoiding insults, labels and/or sweeping generalizations (note penultimate sentence in 3rd paragraph, above);
  • Getting clear on and honoring the difference between opinion and fact, where fact refers to an event or characteristic that reasonable competent individuals, regardless of their beliefs or opinions, agree on, and opinion refers to the meaning(s) an individual ascribes to a fact;
  • Related to the immediately preceding, providing specific, factual and preferably personal examples to support your opinions (as opposed to characterizing, generalizing and interpreting others’ opinions);
  • Getting and staying genuinely curious about yourself, others and the world;
  • Engaging (listening, speaking and asking) in order to learn, understand and clarify, and not to teach or persuade (unless teaching or persuasion has been agreed upon by participating parties in the conversation);
  • Committing to finding those places in which you actually agree with the other (similarities), and not just where you disagree (differences);
  • Agreeing to, and actually staying focused on, the specific content of the current conversation;
  • Feeling into and listening for the emotion(s) behind your own and others’ words;
  • Allowing yourself to understand, feel, embody and tell the other’s story as if it were your own (which goes significantly beyond the idea of walking in another’s shoes – which is a good place to start and useful, and has limitations that we’ll explore);
  • Honestly exploring and assessing how what you promote and what you protest impacts others, especially others who are “not like you” – in the broadest meaning of that phrase. Another way to state this is “Who stands to lose, and how and what will they lose, and who stands to win, and how and what will they win, if what I promote truly manifests and what I protest truly disappears?”

As these essays unfold, I am committed to exposing and owning my own worldview – those values, beliefs, biases and experiences that inform how I experience and interpret life. We’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for reading this far.

Coming Soon: Getting to Know Yourself and Your Worldview

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