Men and Women - can we talk?
Last week, I wrote about men and women talking to each other more in a bid to improve trust between the genders. There are two different responses to that idea. Some people say that men and women talking to each other more will not help. Rather, men and women need to know themselves better. Other people say there has already been enough talking. They seem to believe that, for the present, dialogue between men and women is a spent force as a medium for progress either in the church or in the wider society.
I believe that both these responses contain truth and are complementary. Public theoretical exchanges between men and women about the nature of their relationships, and particularly about power-sharing, have been going on in the world, and certainly in the church, for decades. Experience suggests that they are arid and non-productive affairs. On a public and on a domestic level, people with strongly-held beliefs who set out to prove a case to each other don’t have a conversation, they have an argument. That kind of ‘dialogue’ between men and women rarely improves relationships; it simply strengthens people in their commitment to their own theories and their views of themselves and of each other.
On the other hand, real conversations, whether public or private, begin with questions and a different spirit – a slower spirit of exploration. Participants are willing to suspend judgement – something very difficult for those of us with deeply held convictions. Real conversations lead participants temporarily to inhabit an unfamiliar world - someone else’s thought processes. The kinds of conversations that lead to genuinely new understandings are those in which each conversation partner listens properly to the other - quietly and intently. If this kind of encounter is ‘successful’, your listener can tell your ‘story’ back to you in a way that, even though the two of you may still not agree on your conclusions, you recognise the ‘story’ they tell as ‘yours’. And vice versa.
And that’s where the recommendation for more self-knowledge is also sound. For such real conversations to be successful, there does need to be a degree of self-knowledge. People need some self-awareness about their feelings and the words to be able to articulate at least some of how they feel. Emotional intelligence is a much under-valued quality. Real conversations can help to develop it.
There needs to be genuine openness between the participants in real encounters. Each person needs either to know themselves or be willing to know themselves in a new way. Real conversations demand the courage to be mutually vulnerable, to share inner worlds, not to avoid searching or painful questions. Real conversations demand commitment to the task of spiritual growth and understanding.
Of course, there is one more vital ingredient for real conversations. It is trust - trust in oneself and trust in the other person. This is not just a sociological and a psychological and a theological matter. It is a spiritual matter. Maybe we ‘people of faith’, we people who claim to trust God need to ask ourselves this question: How can we talk about trusting God if we can’t keep trying to learn to trust our human brothers and sisters?