At the Public Resources page of the Center for Contemplative Dialogue you will find an interesting little publication called The Path of Contemplative Dialogue: Engaging the Collective Spirit (.pdf), by Stephen Wirth. In the book, contemplative dialogue is seen as radiating from some core principles:
- Trust in the basic unity of human people and all life.
- Nonviolence in spirit, word, and action.
- Commitment to seeking truth with compassion and humility.
- Commitment to speaking truth with compassion and humility.
- Willingness to risk suspending the rush to action.
These principles are close to my core principles of facilitation but with some emphasis on truth that I’m toying with adding to my own list.
The implications of these principles and the process that emerges from them can extend in many places. In a recent discussion on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation list, Wirth offered some insights into how to make large scale conferences worthwhile learning experiences using contemplative dialogue approaches:
Engaging a group seriously and looking at what its common purpose is, how its ability to learn well together affects the state of the organization or field, and honestly naming the problems that arise from the individual learning stance. This too is where distinguishing the possibilities of dialogue from discussion is significant. Dialogue used here in its technical sense of ‘building shared understanding’ and not just the interchangeable usage with the words discussion or conversation. Further distinguishing ‘learning’ as something more than drinking from the fire hose of ‘theory’ that usually gets sprayed out at such gatherings and consciously inviting/challenging the group to do something more than ‘the usual.’…
Blending meaningful input with thoughtfully designed reflective dialogue allows participants both to engage material and then broaden the groups thinking in relation to it. I assume an effective process requires a skillful blending of time to create safety for the group to speak well together, thoughtful process questions, and allowing meaningful time to reflect and speak to these questions.
Oftentimes I notice a dominant cultural value toward speed and productivity undercuts effective engagement of the group. To arbitrarily assemble groups of eight and give them eight minutes total to share their ‘most meaningful experience of dialogue’ with one another, is a kind of process violence I find all too common. A critical element of good process design requires walking back through the intended process and outcomes and looking realistically at whether the design can produce the hoped for quality of
I am in the midst of putting the final touches on a design for a large scale conference, and these insights could not have been more timely and useful.