The impetus for teaching the practice of civil dialogue came from a request to design a process to help a conflicted organization stop throwing verbal hand grenades at each other, and begin to listen to and honor each others’ truths, whatever the topic of conversation, and however opinions might differ.
The truth is, we are living in a culture in which debate and verbal vitriol are the norms—creating environments where destructive attitudes and behaviors are tolerated and unchecked, often leading to physical violence, injury and even death. On a cosmic level, the idea of peace in the world seems without hope. Unless, as leadership guru Margaret Wheatley says,
we begin to turn to one another and really engage in conversation. Face to face encounter where we discover the “other” to be another human being with a life story, joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams.
Conversations To Change the World build on the experience of Holy Conversations and leadership concepts taught over the past decade which helped facilitate transformative change in the system of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Lexington. Gradually word about the work began to be reported to other systems, religious and secular, and a dream was born.
Hearing the Call….
I first heard the call to change the world when my children and I were both very young. I had been moved at an early age by my experiences in music, as a vehicle that cut across human differences and divisions. As I moved into my early twenties and became a parent, I found myself carrying a combination of passionate caring about the well-being of two little ones far more than I cared about about my own, and fearing for their very lives, as I realized that I had brought them into a world of racial unrest and world conflict. Into my personal world exploded personalities who would change my life and plant a dream that I would spend the remainder of my life trying to live out through various mediums.
- A Jewish orchestra conductor.
- A smiling Japanese pedagogue.
- A group of Episcopal priests.
- Two particular writers.
- Two Bishops
- A football coach and NFL great
- A way of living and being in community and in hope for the world that would be a major connector for me throughout my life.
Dr. Marvin J. Rabin was Conductor of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra and internationally known in the world of music education. I was in high school when he brought the concepts of leadership into my life with his unique self-governing youth board, and integrated those concepts with the power of classical music. It was he who would later introduce me to Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, the violinist who, after the war, deeply saddened by the devastation in his country, and the realization that generations of children would grow up knowing only the aftermath of war, and nothing of beauty or peace, decided to give the children of Japan the one gift he had to give – the gift of music. That decision is now lives in a world-wide philosophy of life and music education that so moved the great Pablo Casals that upon hearing the children play, he wept and said,“Perhaps it is music that will save the world.”
Children who cannot speak the same language, trained in the same pedagogy, play their instruments together in a show of unity that is a symbol of possibility for all who hear.
Malcolm Boyd. The activist writer/priest who revolutionized prayer for a generation, and spoke truths that most feared to verbalize.
Wendell Berry, admired “older friend” of childhood, who turned into a champion of the earth, of place, of values others have forgotten or never recognized.
The Revs. Joel Henning, Bob Insko and Bill Yon, who turned my spiritual world upside down with their insights into human nature and the place where psychology, religion and behavioral science meet- a lived theology and compelling vision for a world where it is possible for people to love each other unconditionally, and to live and work in harmony and value and respect differences.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose Truth and Reconciliation work brought together the Gospel and the best of bereavement theory and reality.
The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls who made family systems a living part of my life and offered me the opportunity of a learning laboratory for civil dialogue and healthy human interaction that allowed a decade of experiences in integrating these ever-evolving ideas and following the results that give solid qualitative data to what might otherwise have remained a dream.
My father, Blanton Collier, a high school teacher and coach who became the coach of a world championship NFL team, and touched more lives by his way of being in caring and respectful relationship with the men he coached, the students he taught, and others in his sphere than the words “coach and teacher” can describe.
The great running back Jim Brown, who has used his celebrity status to create the Amer- I Can program to change the lives of young men others would have given up on
The amazing and far-flung family of practitioners in the world of human relations, in that place where applied behavioral science, psychology and religion meet, who since 1968 have been the community of hope where it was possible to believe that one, two, or three people CAN make a difference in the world, and the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations who continue to offer proof that the dream and the work continue, and evolve.
Today, the dream has crystallized around a process known as Holy Conversations, or Civil Dialogue….and a training in a process to live out that title in the sense that when two or more human beings come together to communicate, that space should and could be holy ground, if people bring with them respect for the dignity of others, and a willingness to listen to someone else’s truth. It sound so simple, and yet it can be so very, very difficult!
We live in a culture where debate is much more widely used form of communication than dialogue, and where many people are unaware that there is a difference; a place where attitudes of disrespect lead to behaviors of hatred and violence.