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.

References:

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

Responsiveness in the hospital community

The night I checked into the hospital to have my first child, I was cared for by a doctor I had never met. She was new to the OB/Gyn practice where I was a patient and I had never had an office visit with her. My optimism at the thought of having my child had led me to expect that when my time came, I would have one of the doctors I knew and by whom I would feel comforted.

Needless to say, I didn’t get what I expected. I had created a birth plan, a trend in 21st-century baby-having. I had expected that I might be able to have my son naturally and that I would be a part of the journey. The new doctor could barely contain her contempt at my having a birth plan. She probably saw me for what I was, someone who was going to need a C-section. Her responsiveness to me was negative and not directed in a relational way nurtured by compassion and companionship. We were not in a loop of mutual giving and receiving. Our communication was not dialogical except to the extent that she was thwarted by my birth plan.

L0000392 Woodcut: physician at patient’s bedside.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk

Each time she said, “Well, if you didn’t have a birth plan, we’d be doing this…” it hurt my feelings and belittled me. Interestingly, the situation caused me to stand up for myself a bit, something that can be difficult for me. The birth plan gave me some power and set a boundary. I explained to the doctor that I wasn’t married to the birth plan, I just wanted to be part of the experience, I wanted to be in on the decisions and not just a body lying there at the mercy of the hospital. I wanted so much for it to be dialogical, that we would learn from each other and make the best decisions together. But dialogical negotiation was not in the cards. We negotiated a bit as I had to give permission for my birth plan to be tossed in the trash, one layer at a time.

After 30 hours of trying various methods to encourage my son to come, my optimism had to turn to hope, a deeper sense of well-being outside my expectations. In one crystalized historical moment suspended over several days, I had to live in survival mode, think about what was best for my baby and give up my expectations and plans for what my experience in the hospital would be like. Something in me knew that we would come out on the other side, and that was what mattered. And if we failed to make it out alive, I had tried my best to make the right decisions.

Fortunately for me and my son, I was not worried about him. I felt intuitively that he was fine, not in danger, and that we just had to get him here. When they finally rolled me down the hall to surgery, I was so desperately tired, thirsty and especially, hungry, that I didn’t know whether I had the strength to keep going. I became a body lying there waiting to have my baby “removed.” Recognizing that I felt in dire straits I remember thinking, “I’m going to have to process this when it’s over.” I had never had to cope in extreme survival mode before.

On the whole, I received good scientific care, but almost none of the responsive communicative actions from the hospital staff – doctors, nurses, lactation consultants and more – were particularly helpful or comforting. I still remember one nurse telling me that she Jokingly threatened my newborn that if he didn’t stop crying he would have to get his foot poked (as they do to check stats in babies) again! I was horrified. I didn’t have an experience of appropriate attentiveness. The staff did not seem to judge what would be the most caring response for me at any time. It was all a practical, scientific undertaking, based on the agenda of the various staff members: The doctor knew that she knew best, that baby nurse didn’t want to be bothered my son’s crying and the lactation consultant couldn’t stand the thought of any other method than breast feeding because she’d nursed seven children of her own.

Ironically, in the end, my “new” doctor ended up being such a good surgeon that I chose to have her deliver my second son in a planned C-section. When I was under what I would consider her will, our relationship was more cordial and she was more responsive to me as a person. I was also able to participate by learning more about C-sections and what to expect.

To close I must say that in other situations with my family, at this same hospital, we have received the most caring attentiveness I could imagine. We have been extremely blessed. Such contrasting experiences have shown me the importance of communication ethics in health care. We are all partners in these journeys, encouraging and nurturing each to health no matter the physical outcome. To miss the opportunity to encounter the other and work together through situations requiring care, is to miss a critical part on the human journey.

 

The community of Church memory and how things change

In Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference, the authors discuss the theory developed by Robert Bellah that organization are holders of a “community of memory” (Arnett, Fritz, and Bell, 2009). No organization or individual exists in a vacuum, especially not the Church. The Christian Church has a long history of tradition, or holding the community of memory, providing generation after generation a container in which to describe, define and understand their faith. This faith container also provides guidelines for how one lives in the world.

Tradition is a beautiful thing. It connects us to the millennia of people who have come before us, seeking God in the mystery of life. However, the people who have come before us have expressed their faith within the Christian Church differently over the centuries. This is what we call living tradition. Living tradition is in place when the community of memory holds the what, the good, what is important, while translating it for current times. Translating for the current culture is not always easy, as we know. Different groups within organizations, especially in the Church, have different notions of the good that the organization is protecting. Different groups within the same organization back different communities of memory.

What happens when these differences arise as a people struggle to stay together in times of change or cultural development? Often there is a “rhetorical interruption” (Arnett, et. al, 2009). One of the most recent in my Church, The Episcopal Church, has been the concern over what to do about same-sex marriage. What began decades ago as a forward-looking discussion became an absolute interruption when legislation was place before the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2012 providing resources for a ceremony called a same-sex blessing to be performed provisionally in the Church (same-sex marriage itself was not yet on the table, just the blessing of a marriage) (Archives of The Episcopal Church, Resolution 2012-A049).

For some, this was a total culture shock. I liken it to intercultural communication ethics where differences and similarities among cultures are studied, as well as the content of those cultures and the effects of that content on persons within and across different cultures (Arnett, et. al, 2009). The community of memory for many in the Church viewed marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman. Others viewed this movement as being part of the living tradition, one that was adapting to our times. These were very different cultural traditions quickly forced into the same worship space.

This shift created a rhetorical interruption in the life of the Church. The answer, at least in my diocese (a geographical groups of churches in a hierarchical church), was to be dialogical, to attempt “learning” (Arnett, et. al, 2009). A task force of people who stood in a variety of positions on the matter was formed, as equally divided into two communities of memory as possible – roughly those for and those against – those who saw same-sex marriage as completely counter to the culture of the Church and those who saw it as tradition along a continuum.

The group met, studied, discussed theology, prayed together and most of all, stayed together. Out of this task force came a paper on the theology of marriage in the Church and on same-sex (at the time) blessings. The result was the development of a process where churches could apply to perform same-sex blessings only after offering the same dialogical model first in their congregations. It was required that they offer meetings and discussion and that the vestry (governing body of a congregation) at the end of the discussion process, vote on whether their congregation would apply to perform the blessings.

Many congregations, under one diocese, had the opportunity to stay in community in the midst of disagreement and to be a part of the evolving community of memory. It worked. The churches in my diocese stayed together and the people within the churches stayed together. We are still together. Some folks, of course, left when the Church took a direction that they couldn’t reconcile with their notion of the community of memory, but on the whole, we are whole.

In 2015 at the time of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (held every three years), same-sex marriage was made legal in most states in the U.S. and about a week later, the Church approved that same-sex marriages could be performed in churches (General Convention of The Episcopal Church, Resolution 2015-A054). Whole dioceses and congregations within dioceses still have choice, but the new living tradition of the Church is that it has taken a stance on same-sex marriage, engaging in a significant cultural shift.

There are still many who disagree with the stance The Episcopal Church has taken. I would recommend, as described above, the ethical communication behaviors of dialogue and sharing stories. Getting to know the people who live in your community allows for learning and an opening of the heart. Don’t shut yourself off to those in your family who you love who disagree. “Meeting another culture is a journey into difference” (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 163). When we do that, we know who we are and what we stand for in a compassionate and loving way.

References:

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

General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of…The Episcopal Church, Salt Lake City, 2015 (New York: General Convention, 2015), pp. 778-781.

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017, from https://www.episcopalarchives.org/

Moderated Comments

In our culture of global connectedness, dialogue and opinion, more often opinion, are as widespread as the air we breathe. In communication ethics, “the public arena does not offer the final answer; it is the place where one takes a grounded stance, engages the grounded stances of others, and makes a decision (Armett, Fritz, and Bell, 2009, p. 103). It is also the place that protects and promotes discernment among many different ideas. It functions well when public space for conversation is the goal, the highest good, and not one’s own opinion (Arnett, Fritz, and Bell, 2009).

Yet the comments we see on news sites are more often than not, opinion. Voices are heard, statements are made, opinions are cast, but does any true learning from the other really take place?

Take, for example, an article posted July 30, 2017 on the New York Times website, Putin, Responding to Sanctions, Orders U.S. to Cut Diplomatic Staff by 755 by Neil MacFarquhar. 930 comments are posted in response to this article. Of those, 432 were selected as “reader’s picks” and 31 as “New York Times picks.”

An excess of choices can make us feel overwhelmed (Arnett, Fritz, and Bell, 2009). In deciding which and how many of the comments on this article to read, I first clicked on the “All” tab. Many of the first-loading, first-seen comments are opinions, stated firmly. The writers of the comments do not seem to have come to the online discussion table to discern, be curious, be confused, and to make a decision, even if it means changing their minds, after reading multiple statements and discussion posts. They seem to have arrived at the site to stamp the page, rather than “protect the public space of enlightenment” (Arnett, Fritz, and Bell, 2009, p. 104).

In these comments, private opinion, rather than public discourse, seems to be the goal. Readers  tended to prefer comments that show “undue confidence” and “unsubstantiated opinion (Arnett, Fritz, and Bell, 2009). Many of these comments reflect confidence and knowledge but lack an open-endedness that might further the discussion, allowing readers to make decisions based on having read a multiplicity of information. I next clicked on the “Readers'” tab. These comments demonstrated a whittle down, discerned list of more knowledge, but also are primarily opinion statements.

If one wished to make decisions in this context, in the arena of the public sphere of “sacred space” where disoursce and learning can lead to reframing of thought and positive changes in our systems, he might choose to click on the New York Times picks. On the whole, these comments demonstrate some working knowledge of our U.S. political system and of our history.  Unlike the readers’ picks, many of these comments use language such as, “I wonder,” “hopefully,” and “if.” Gene B. wrote, “It’s time to scale back the hate rhetoric before it’s too late, and focus on what we have in common” (MacFarquhar, 2017).

Gene B.’s statement is an opinion, but one that encourages discovery of common ground as a starting place for discourse. One could argue that the media is biased in this case, The New York Times having it’s own pick list of comments. I believe the intent of the New York Times is to  foster public discourse and learning from those who bear different opinions and levels of knowledge.

In a small sense, The New York Times is acting as an informed moderator of its own website, posting the reader comments they find to benefit the furtherance of the discussion. However, I think informed moderators would be an improvement. Informed moderators could post open-ended questions, to which they would often receive opinionated answers. Yet a moderator could prompt, ask why-type questions, and pull some commenters into deeper conversations.

The challenge would lie in the delicate balance between supporting freedom of speech and promoting the good of the sacred space of public discourse. There is a risk of separating, of silencing voices if what might be considered unethical or inappropriate comments are deleted from conversation.

On the other hand, too many comments that demonstrate “undue confidence” and “unsubstantiated opinion” shut discussion down. They do not encourage those who feel differently to enter into dialogue. Those who disagree either remain silent, or they speak their opinions loudly. Speaking opinions too loudly discourages level-headed, researched, grounded dialogue, shutting those who would ask questions down with aggressive statement. An example is Rolf Rolfsson’s comment that” The U.S. Congress is starting a new Cold War with Russia that will have no good end” (MacFarquahr, 2017).

I wonder whose voices are missing in the field of comments? For one, there are not historians, constitutional law professionals or U.N. Ambassadors weighing in with their opinions on Donald Trump’s and Congress’ actions.

Too many opinions are overwhelmed and do not create sacred space in the public arena for discernment. Informed moderators could pare down material, choose comments for multiple views on an argument an option the floor for discussion.

I wonder what it would be like if we stopped writing our opinions down on line, but instead began posing questions that carry great meaning?

References:

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

MacFarquhar, N. (2017, July 30). Putin, Responding to Sanctions, Orders U.S. to Cut Diplomatic Staff by 755. Retrieved July 30, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/30/world/europe/russia-sanctions-us-diplomats-expelled.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

I beg you not to importune me any further

Interpersonal distance is an important part of ethics in interpersonal communications. You can read more about it in Communications Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference by Arnett, Fritz and Bell, 2009.

In the vlog linked below I wish to illustrate the importance of distance in interpersonal relationships by using a clip from the film Pride and Prejudice. It is one of my favorite scenes in my favorite movie (and book), where the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is confronted by money power in the form of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lizzie stands up to Lady Catherine, refusing to sell out, refusing to sacrifice her happiness for anything less than her deepest authentic desires.

Lizzie completely rocks and I know there are many fans out there who agree! In her time, it would have been very difficult socially to stand up to money power and Lizzie is visibly shaken by the encounter, yet she endures. Lady Catherine, throughout her relationship with Elizabeth, fails to observe appropriate distance, imposing herself on Elizabeth, forcing herself on her in the hopes of directing Lizzie’s actions.

References for the vlog can be found on the last slide of the presentation.

A link to download or view the presentation in Dropbox can be found here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/p35bznbp5kysxbd/COM%20616%20Week%204%20Vlog%20windows%20attempt.mp4?dl=0

Search for the Grail

The narrative that guides my life can be summed up in referencing the story of the search for the Holy Grail. This may seem like a big story to throw out there at you as my life’s narrative, or it may seem overly cheesy, but I’d like to explain.

The Grail legend is a fascinating narrative, and wherever I go to talk about, I find that it resonates as vividly with people today as it has for centuries. I’d say that gives it a bit of staying power. What is so interesting about the Grail legend is that it combine the Christian narrative of searching for the cup from which Christ drank with elements of fairy tale narratives. There are castles and quests, secret questions and more, but all with the goal of finding out whom the Grail serves. The knightly virtues of courtesy, service, and sacrifice are medieval versions illustrating  the role of the Christ as servant leader.

As mentioned in a previous post of this blog, the “good,” as defined in the study of communication ethics, that I personally protect is that of love for all people.The Grail legend supports this.  I’ll have to let you read the Grail legend for yourself (though I may write about it in future posts), but the jist of its narrative that guides my life and affects decisions I make I can describe briefly in this post.

Perceval is the son of a king who dies in battle. He is raised by his mother in a tower, in ignorance of his true identity. He is sheltered and naive. One day, sent on an errand, he across a knight in shining armor (no triteness intended) and thinks him to be an angel. A few day later, he sees a group of them. He approaches the group in his naïveté and they help him by educating him and escorting him to King Arthur. He is noticed by King Arthur, who protects the “good” of peace in the land equality for all via the metaphor of his Round Table. To prove himself worthy of his greatest desire, which is to serve as one of Arthur’s knights, Perceval accepts a mission from the High King to seek the Grail.

What we learn in the story is that there is an old, wounded king residing in the Grail Castle, a location very difficult to find. The old king represents a life of the human condition of suffering and Perceval, in his naïveté, represents the seeker in all of us. Perceval must look for the roots of suffering and seek wholeness. He has learned on his journey that if he is fortunate enough to discover the Grail Castle, he is to ask the question, “Whom does the Grail serve?”

While in the Grail Castle, he is witness to a Grail Procession, where one learns that the Grail, a metaphor for the True Self, the whole, healthy, complete Self, is accessible all the time, in all places, if one only asks for it to be revealed.

The Grail serves God, the journey to wholeness, and as with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, one finds that the “home” of True Self is there all along. We must only stop long enough to tap into it.

This story serves as a myth (in the true sense of the word myth – a metaphorical story that explains reality – for my life). It is a narrative that guides me as I make decisions and act in the world. I wish for wholeness, equality and justice. I want to give myself a chance to be proven and to discover the person I was created to be. I also wish to serve others and to help them discover the narrative of God’s love and abundance in their own lives and in the world. As a result, I tend to be encouraging and positive. I like to see the call and talent in others as Arthur did in Perceval, and encourage them, along with myself on my journey, to go on a continual quest to seek out the person God created them to be.

I enjoy using this illustration of the Grail legend for the spiritual journey. Christianity is my container. The message I receive from the Bible and from my spiritual journey is that everyone is created to be equal and all are deserving of love and belonging. Because there are many different communication ethics, especially in the postmodern world, we find ourselves more than ever today, in a position of “othering” others, embodying and protecting very different versions of the “good.” We fail to see that each person has a call to a become who they were created to be (even if what their best Self looks like is very different from mine), to be redeemed as the fullest version of themselves. My life decisions are dictated from within my desire to be whole, as well as my desire to be a companion to others on the road to wholeness that for me is life, where we are seeking to love our neighbors as ourselves, desiring for each human person what we desire for ourselves.

References:

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

Coogan, M. D., Brettler, M. Z., Newsom, C. A., & Perkins, P. (2010). The new Oxford annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jung, E., Franz, M. V., & Dykes, A. (1998). The Grail legend. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University press.

Pyle, H. (1987). Story king aurthur & champions of round table 2v#. Dover Publications.

The good of me

Have you ever thought about how your notion of “the good” is different from someone else’s? For years I have studied personality typing. I am a nine on the Enneagram and tend to want to understand the viewpoints of all around me for the sake of connection. I enjoy seeing others’ points of view, although by doing so in the past I have, at times, risked not knowing my own stance more fully.

But the expression, “seeing others’ points of view” doesn’t carry the weight for me that the wondering of others’ views of “the good” does. I am excited to offer my own notion of “the good” and to listen to others’ going forward. Love cannot break through if we cannot begin the dialogue of listening, even in the worst of circumstances.

I will address dialoguing with others in more depth in later posts, but for now, must define my own notion of “the good” in order to better know from where I approach others.

The good that I stand for and protect can best be described as the “kingdom of God.” I understand that for those who are not religious or who have been harmed by religion, this phrase can seem trite, harmful and even off-putting. I do not mean to offend. But in recent years, this phrase has come to mean a great deal to me. I must confess that, delving more deeply into communication ethics with others, the phrase, “kingdom of God” is going to be as different to varying individuals and groups as is each person’s concept of “the good.”

But here is what it means to me: In the kingdom of God on earth, all people are created by the Creator, loved by the Creator and have value. No one person is better than another. That is where I am at this point in my life and I wish to spend my life defending that love in all people. Yes, individuals throughout history, as well as today, have done and do cruel things, have committed terrible acts, and just seem so different from me that I might call them wrong, my enemy, or “the Other.”

But when I call someone else “the Other,” I immediately break any possibility of relationship or love and separate myself from the God within them, no matter how readily available or covered in muck that Spirit might be.  Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies, that before we take the speck out of another’s eye we must first remove the log from our own. In other words, we are all human. We all, if handed the conducive set of life circumstances, have the potential to do any of the bad that anyone else has ever done. Most likely, we each would like to think that we would make a different choice, and hopefully we would. But the truth remains that it is possible that we might not. That possibility, that shadow inherent in being human, is what connects us on a level that we do not enjoy looking at. But at that level, there lies the potential for compassion.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a free HIV testing day at one of the churches for which I work. The most special moment of the day came when I recognized a gentleman from some pictures of an HIV/AIDS retreat sponsored by the Church summer before last. I said to him, “I know you from the pictures I received.” He greeted me, told me his name, and threw his arms around me. I hugged him back as eagerly. He is HIV positive. He is full of love. In a twist of divine reversal that Jesus likes to constantly toss out at us I thought to myself, “I am so honored that he hugged me. He cared who I was. He acknowledged the Spirit in me.” He could just as easily thought, “I have nothing in common with this privileged-looking woman who has probably never known a day of true suffering in her life.” He could so easily have judged me. But he did not. He chose to love me.

So, I protect love among all people. It’s not always easy to like everybody, but it is possible to project love into the world, first and foremost above all things. The more of us who do that, the less violence and hate there will be. How many people commit crimes as adults because they weren’t loved as children, in fact, never found love as adults in their communities?

I realize, friends, that I’m starting to sound like I’m preaching and as if I were raised in a tradition that quotes Scripture constantly. I wasn’t, and yet the more I can claim the language of my faith, the more comfortable I am using it. We each have a responsibility, in my worldview, to try to bring as much love, even in the tiniest of ways, to each and every day. The culmination of those tiny pieces is worth much more than the sum of its parts and it can change the world.

I understand that my friends and brothers and sisters out there protect different “goods” – the good of individualism and self-empowerment, the good of nationalism, and the good of the law among many other views. May we all learn from and begin to understand each other.