Dialogue: an essential ingredient for peaceful relationships

Members of Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit and residents of the surrounding neighborhood take part in a Good Friday Peace Walk on April 3. (CNS/Jim West)

According to The New York Times, during a White House luncheon in 1954, Winston Churchill said, "To jaw-jaw [talk-talk] always is better than to war-war."

While clearly not a pacifist, the United Kingdom's World War II prime minister had seen up close the absolute horror of war and became convinced that tirelessly striving to resolve disputes through respectful dialogue was always preferable to war.  

Yes, indeed, "to jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war." But then why is it that when faced with differences of opinion, we often opt for violence instead of dialogue?

When harsh words are directed at us, why do we often respond with a harsh reply? When spouses continue to hurt each other, why do they often resort to a mean-spirited divorce? And when different ethnic groups, tribes, religions and nations find themselves at odds, why do they so often take up arms to kill each other?

I suspect that the sin of pride -- the foundational sin of all other sins -- is at the center of all this. Pride puffs up the ego, which tempts each one of us to selfishly concentrate on what we want, often with no thought of the God-given rights of others.

Instead of taming the pride-filled ego with honest humility, we often allow it to dominate our thoughts, words and actions, which make respectful dialogue nearly impossible.

And when respectful dialogue is absent, violent words, violent actions, murder, and the mass murder of war take over.

Unfortunately, many people often rationalize that violence must be met with violence. They have not learned the tragic lessons of history. Violence never leads to genuine, lasting peace. Instead, it plants the seeds for future violence, which grows like weeds.

Respectful dialogue is absolutely necessary to root out the weeds of violence. Respectful dialogue communicates first and foremost from the heart. It speaks from the heart and listens from the heart. It is heart-to-heart communication. It tries to genuinely understand the other person's legitimate needs and the pain of not having those needs met. Respectful dialogue walks in the other person's shoes.

The late Marshall Rosenberg, teacher of peace and founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication, insightfully said: "When our communication supports compassionate giving and receiving, happiness replaces violence and grieving!"

The late Jewish philosopher Martin Buber offers wise and lovely insight here. In his book I and Thou, Buber explains that there are two primary ways of being in relationship with others: "I-Thou" or "I-It."

We are in an "I-It" relationship when we think of and treat another person as an "it"; that is, as an object to be measured, manipulated and used. How sad it is that so many people today are treated as an "it."

But when we are in an "I-Thou" relationship, we see each other as another self -- another human being of equal dignity.

Buber further explained that this respectful view toward each other invites us to relate our entire being to another person. This in turn leads to a response of give and take for the mutual good of both people. This is what respectful dialogue is all about: where, as Buber points out, real communion with each other is possible, and God's presence is experienced.

In the words of Pope Francis: "All wars, conflicts and troubles we encounter with each other are because of a lack of dialogue."

Instead, we must "dialogue to meet each other, not to fight."

[Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He will be the keynote speaker at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church's May 2 social awareness seminar in San Clemente, Calif. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, "Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century," has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.]

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