The dialectical way of life

I see today’s “monk without a monastery,” or “monk in the world,” as a champion of dialogue and discernment, who builds community and healing. As I continue my education, it will be my responsibility to take steps to increase my communication ethics literacy for the benefit of my workplace, my family and the world.

Communication ethics literacy is defined as that which “identifies the good in the interplay of self and Other and the particular historical moment, attending to what is protected and promoted” (Arnett, Fritz & Bell, 2009, p. 231).

One step I know I can take to increase my literacy is to apply this concept to everyday life in the historical moment of postmodernity. I believe that to a certain extent I already do, being a proponent of the work of Carl Jung in the context of dream work and shadow work, as well as a student of theological reflection. These practices bridge the private and the public spheres and connect them with faith, Scripture and culture. The interplay between self and “Other” is critical in these two practices, where there is really no such thing as “Other,” where every part of a situation is part of one’s self. When we can recognize the “Other” as part of ourselves, we begin to live in a world based in wholeness.Wholeness doesn’t mean perfect agreement, unanimity, or blind faith. Wholeness is exactly what it sounds like – a completeness. It arises out of the dialectical process of the tension of opposites leading to synthesis and progress.

So in my daily life, I can pay more attention to the things that trouble me and those that bother me. I must stand firmly in what I believe within myself while opening myself to listening to others. I must be willing to learn from what I hear. I believe that I’m pretty good at listening, being open and being willing to learn. The problem for me then arises standing my ground. I am sometimes too willing to see all points of view as valid, not that they aren’t valid to the people expressing them, but they can’t all be valid as my point of view. They can only inform my point of view with my cooperation in wanting to learn and grow in relationship with my fellow human beings.

The events of Charlottesville, VA last week are a perfect example of a place in this historical moment where I can stop, listen and discern. I have to be willing to see the side of the neo-nazis, understanding why they believe what they believe, while embracing the opposite opinion myself. If I am not able to engage in dialogue, for example, with those whose values are so different from mine, then we will remain in separate pockets of humanity, not communicating ethically and not building community. The likely result of such a situation is violence.

When human beings can stand in such different territory, whether due to upbringing, genetics, personality, culture or conditioning, we realize we have a common ground ¬†– we are human. If the beliefs of the “Other” can be so completely opposite to mine, then we owe each other to listen to each other, to find out how we can be humans on the same planet with such wildly different ethical views. If we can connect on the level of our humanity, perhaps we can begin to understand each other. My greatest hope is that little bit of understanding can lead to relationship and love, not violence or indignant disagreement.

In the end, I will stand, after much discernment and learning, for what I believe to be the right thing for me to do and the right things for me to believe. This doesn’t mean I will reject my fellow man, but hopefully means I can begin to make progress in cultivating a communication ethic in the world around me that fosters love and compassion.


Arnett, R. C., Fritz, J. M., & Bell, L. M. (2009). Communication ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. Los Angeles: Sage Publications

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