A Shifting Conversation

One of the key premises in transformative practice is that there are naturally-occurring shifts in conversation moving from confusion and uncertainty to clarity and strength of self, moving from self-absorption to openness and responsiveness to the other.  These shifts cycle back and forth between confusion and clarity, between self-absorption and recognition throughout conversations.  The central goal of the transformative intervenor is to support these shifts.  The objective is to create a space where the speaker can listen to herself and the listener can listen to the speaker somewhat differently.  But transformative moments occur without third party intervenors.  Let’s look at these excerpts from an essay by Sylvia Boorstein, “We Shall Overcome Fixed Views”, published in the Shambhala Sun:

I was one of ten people seated together at a benefit dinner to raise funds for the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project and the conversation, after preliminary introductions, turned to the election results.
. . .

A man sitting across from me, the one person who had been silent during the political conversation, then said, “I think I am the only person at this table who voted differently from everyone else.” There was a momentary pause, very brief, and then a woman said, “I think it is very courageous of you to have told us that.”

We would say that the man’s statement is a clear example of a shift from a state of relative weakness/isolation to strength of self (empowerment) in expressing his contrary political views.  In the same way, the woman’s comment was a shift from solidarity with the rest of the group, let’s call it self-absorption (group absorption might be better) to openness/responsiveness to the other (recognition).

“Well, I did vote differently,” the man continued. “I’ve been a banker all my life and I thought the Republican economic plan was the better plan.” He paused, and then said, “But I’m glad it turned out the way it did. I can see that this is an epochal moment for America and sends an important message to the world.”

Here, validated by the woman’s comments, the man explains himself some more in very clear terms, and offers recognition to the members of the group by acknowledging his satisfaction with the way the election turned out.

Then, the essayist, Sylvia Boorstein, takes away from this exchange what we might call the true transformative coda, that differences can be broached other than adversarially through force or a rights framework, on the basis of our common humanity:

I was, first of all, surprised. . .Presented with the data, this person, who seemed so intelligent and congenial and goodhearted in his opening remarks, who supports this same good cause that all of us at this dinner are supporting, who realizes that this is an epochal event in history, has another view of what will be the programs that make a better world. I can separate the person from his view. I can disagree with his view but I do not need to make him my enemy.

Read the entire essay here.

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One thought on “A Shifting Conversation

  1. Keith Fraser

    Arnold,
    Your description of transformative mediation is beautifully written in your comments in “shifting conversation.” Well done. I would concur and congratulate you on being recognized by your fellow mediators and bloggers, Diane Levin and Geoff Sharp. The allowance for silence and space in the dinner conversation seemed to me to be both zen as well as transformative.
    Keith Fraser

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