Wednesday, October 20, 2010

True Conversation

It might be in the church parking lot, the school yard, on blogs and Facebook, but wherever they occur conversations take place.  Sometimes they are quite benign and maybe even uplifting.  But they can also be destructive.  When misunderstandings occur or miscommunication occurs, mistrust often emerges.  Since we're in a political season, where attack ads dominate the scene, and creation of mistrust has become a political art form, it maybe wise to stop and think about the nature of conversation, especially in relationship to the question of trust.  

I will be writing a review shortly of Martin Marty's new book from Eerdmans entitled Building Cultures of Trust.  Marty is a wise elder statesman, whose Sightings postings generally appear on this site each Monday.  I have high regard for him as a historian and as a Christian sage.  So, when Marty speaks, I tend to listen.
A central theme in this book that focuses on building cultures of trust is the way way we communicate (or miscommunicate).  Although he uses the science/religion axis as a key analogy, it is clear that the points made in the book cover all forms of conversation.  Thus, in this regard, he speaks of true conversation in this way:

In true conversation, one listens (picture the scientist hearing the religionist) just as one speaks (imagine the same scientist doing the talking as the religionist listens); in that interchange, ideas flow and confidence has a chance to build.  If conversation involves one partner always having to await time to speak, bursting unbidden on the speech of someone else, then true conversation is not occurring and cannot occur.  The fundamentalist in religion or in science has no patience for hearing the other and has the impulse only to denounce the other.  However, the "other," in the act of conversing, wants to inform and educate him-or herself.  The good conversationalist helps the other organize and assess reality.  He may often include invitations in conversation:  bids to have the other join him and his friends in designated places.  Conversations, as everyone knows, go on at all levels, whether about grocery lists, the prospect of removing a wisdom tooth, facing prostate cancer, batting averages, or the ordination of homosexuals to the clergy. (Building Cultures of Trust., p. 128)

The value of such conversations is that they can, when engaged in with open hearts and minds, the conversation partners into new levels of engagement.  Indeed, Marty suggests that so-called "trivial conversation" can help set the stage for building trust.  Whenever we engage in trust building efforts, we are risking ourselves.  When one side insists that it has the truth and won't listen to the other, trust cannot be built. 

So, what is the "moral" of this story for us?  I think we might try to have a conversation -- a civil conversation -- about finding ways of communicating effectively with each other.  I know that it is easy to engage in one-sided conversations (read arguments).  I've engaged in them quite often.  I'm a rather opinionated chap, which is in part why I set up this blog, so I could share my opinions on matters of theology, politics, etc.  But, hopefully it is more than a place to voice opinions.  Hopefully, this can be a place where a conversation can develop.  I may set things out in stark terms to get the conversation going, but hopefully we can use this as a way of entering into a fruitful conversation. and not simply a series of tirades! 


Brian said...

I've never taken the time to say so, but I find your approach to be very inviting for good conversation.

The way you feel about Martin Marty is not unlike how I feel about Clark Williamson. He teaches conversational theology. I do my best to bring his vision and spirit into my ministry.

Our world needs conversation. When we have conversation, we respect our conversation partners. Imagine a world in which people are cool with the idea that others won't agree with them. Imagine a world of mutual respect. Not a bad deal.

Glenn said...

Some often difficult to follow but never the less useful rules for civil conversations.

1. Disagree with the idea, not the person.

2. Avoid the use of terms like “never” and “always”.

3. Using terms like “often” and “generally” will
allow for the mutual recognition of exceptions.

4. The word “some” is less offensive than “many”
which is less offensive than “most” and should
be used accordingly.

5. Always support your ideas with sources and

6. Don’t exaggerate when supporting your claim.

7. While it is acceptable to state your opinion, do
not confuse opinion with facts.

8. Never disagree with inconvenient truths.

9. Always acknowledge the positives of another’s

10. Watch the “tone” of your “voice” so that you do
not alienate others in the name of being right.

11. Keep your perspective. The sun will rise
tomorrow, even if everyone doesn’t come
around to your point of view.

David said...

I'm not trying to argue, but inform-

You have the title wrong- it's

Building Cultures of Trust

Also, why is it you have the "religionist(?)" "listening", but the scientist merely "hearing"? I smell prejudice.

Don't facts weigh more than opinion?

Anyway, you can always skip over things you don't like in a blog. I don't understand the sensitivity. Vulgarity is one thing. Anger without violence is a good thing. If I become boring, check other blogs.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


Thanks for the correction.

On the quote, Marty assumes that this is two-way, so both need to listen to the other. If you read the full book you'll see that he wants both sides to be fair to the other. More to come.

On the tone of conversations -- I think the question is purpose and point. My hope is that we can learn from each other. In our earlier debate with Gary, Gary is the fundamentalist in Marty's construct who is intent only on stirring the pot, not engaging in meaningful conversation. Thus, I asked that Gary no longer be engaged.

I should have up the entire review tomorrow.

David said...


David said...