I guess when we have a personal conflict, it seems like a very big deal! I then read the on line squabbles and the sheer viciousness of what people are saying to each other.
Some minor intellectual spat or two sides in some perhaps meaningless debate of no great substance. They are certainly not listening: they are conducting a virtual dialogue of the deaf. And in a way they are taking a small step on the road to genocide: to simply wanting the other side to disappear, to be vaporised, punished, eliminated.
I have had an interesting life, though by the standards of my friends in the military, not an especially violent one. I have had petrol bombs thrown at me, been run at by mounted police, had 600 riot police protecting my plant, faced off angry mobs, had supper with retired spies, and nine US Admirals, worked with those who look after victims of torture, and the casualties of bombings from above and from IEDs, and those who try to obtain the release of innocent prisoners. I have friends on both sides of the Middle East struggles. Met people who lost their land to corrupt local leaders in Bangladesh. A lot of my friends work or worked for the US military in all its many branches. And I guess I have spent time with at least two billionaires and people at every income level down to $2 a day. And I doubt there is a major religion on earth I have not spent time with its adherents.
All that has given me a sense of proportion. A sense that we have to approach conflict in better ways, be more open to the other side, while keeping clear on my own perspectives and interests: what I call conflict stereoscopy. But I don’t confuse a work place row or on line squabble with the work of Pol Pot.
It seems to me that so many of us have a fixed view of the world and that anything that challenges is deeply threatening to our psychological identity. My friends in academia tell me it is sometimes a snake pit of plotting, egos and feuds: another take on academic freedom?
Yet with the scale of the problems facing us, shouldn’t there be somewhere, some on line place, some physical space, some emotional space where we can enter dialogue, real listening, exchanging dialogue across the fault lines of our conflicting views? Somewhere with basic civility and mutual respect? If Nelson Mandela or the parties in Northern Ireland can come to some mutual respect, why can’t we?
I will post in future about techniques to achieve real dialogue including the work of David Bohm on such matters.