“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. In this all the children of God may unite, even though they retain these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may help one another increase in love and in good works.” -John Wesley, On A Catholic Spirit
What is Good Conversation?
From our experiences with JustPeace, we have come to learn the power of conversation. Much of the conflict we face in life is a result of a lack of conversation or poor communication. And, conflicts are often resolved – even transformed – by practicing good conversation.
We explored practicing good conversation with one group on August 6th, 2011. Young adults from Asbury UMC, Mt. Vernon Place UMC and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC gathered together for a facilitated conversation about their hopes and dreams for the Church and their community. Click here to view the entire conversation.
Good conversation allows us to share our ideas and learn from one another in the process. It can bring us together, build community and as Dorotheos of Gaza taught us, the closer we connect ourselves to one another, the closer we become to God.
Unfortunately, many of us live in a culture in which conversation is becoming a lost art. We are surrounded by constant chatter and noise and rarely take the time to slow down and engage one another about the important things in our lives. As Margaret Wheatley has said,
“I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate at public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.”
We use the phrase “good conversation” to indicate a conversation that goes deeper than simple small talk. A conversation that creates a space in which people are not confined by their positions but instead feel comfortable and confident to speak from their life experiences about their interests and needs. A safe space in which authentic conversation flows, where truth is spoken in love and where listening is done with the purpose of understanding the other..
Host a Good Conversation
We have found that many people are longing for good conversation. If you’re one of them, know that you’re not alone. In fact, we believe that there are others in your community and congregation who are hungry for a chance to talk and foster community through conversation. As Meg Wheatley points out, “Too many of us feel isolated, strange, or invisible. Conversation helps end that.”
We have created the following pages to give you ideas and some of the “best practices” we have found along the way. Every context and group of people are unique, so only use these suggestions if you think they will work. Use your instincts!
- Getting Started: Creating Space for Good Conversation – advice and guidelines to get started hosting a good conversation.
- The Circle Process – Ritual & Relational Covenant – processes that JustPeace uses to facilitate and host good conversations.
- Recommended Resources – here you will find books and websites that we recommend for learning more.
- Share Your Story – if you host a good conversation in your congregation or community, we want to hear about it!
Conversation as a Spiritual Discipline?
One hope of JustPeace is for the Church to embody and practice the spiritual discipline ofgood conversation. We live in a world that is becoming increasingly divided and segmented. Many of us find ourselves talking more but saying less, and only interacting with others who support our views and think the same way that we do. When the divisive and competitive rhetoric of politics and media begins to seep into our churches, we often want to run away or fight for our position instead of practicing good conversation and learning from one another. Instead of following in the culture’s footsteps, what if the Church was a place where we could go to find good conversation? Where people gathered regularly for the sole purpose of sharing ideas, listening to one another and growing in community? In her book, Christians in the Public Square, Ellen Ott Marhall asks, ”What difference would it make if Christians entered the public square not as a force for futher division, but as embodiments of a love that insists upon relationship?” Good conversation in our churches can prepare us to meet disagreements with love – not to agree or form consensus, or to even back away from tightly held positions, but to seek understanding and put relationships first.