Dialogue Commandment #6: Don”t Assume Disagreement

SIXTH COMMANDMENT: Each participant must come to the dialogue with no hard-and-fast assumptions as to where the points of disagreement are. Rather, each partner should not only listen to the other partner with openness and sympathy but also attempt to agree with the dialogue partner as far as is possible while still maintaining integrity with his own tradition; where he absolutely can agree no further without violating his own integrity, precisely there is the real point of disagreement–which most often turns out to be different from the point of disagreement that was falsely assumed ahead of time.

This commandment is a corrollary of Commandment #5. If I assume that I know where your tradition and mine will disagree, I am assuming that I know not only what your tradition says about the issue, but what you understand your tradition to say. I may also approach our discussion with an expectation of conflict and competition, which may keep me on the defensive and not open to hearing what my dialogue partner actually is saying.So much of our religious experience (more than our religious teaching) is surprisingly common. Religious traditions that grow out of our day-to-day experience of living, that speak to our need for meaning, belonging, compassion and care, are rooted in our common humanity. It is not, then, surprising that we should find many more points of commonality than we had expected. As we build a genuine relationship, as we grow in the capabilty of truly listening to each other, we then lay the groundwork for being able to explore our very real differences without severing our relationship or striking out at each other.

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