Twenty seven years ago, Leonard Swidler (from Temple University in Philly), published “The Dialogue Decalogue.” That would also be known as the Ten Commandments of Dialogue, since “decalogue” means “ten commandments” or “ten words,” just like in Exodus and Deuteronomy. With its reference to Christian-Marxist dialogue as an ongoing process, it looks like it was written twenty seven years ago. However, the principles it espouses are as relevant and badly-needed now (if not more so) as they were then. Last year, I preached a sermon on dialogue which barely scratched the surface of it.
Dialogue is a way of paying respect to another human being. Ultimately, it opens oneself to God. If we’re willing to enter into dialogue, we first must be willing to listen. Swidler’s first commandment of dialogue is to recognize that its “primary purpose…is to learn…and then to act accordingly.” I won’t deal with all of his “commandments.” The document is well worth reading for that.
Dialogue can deal with religious, political, or any number of other aspects of life. Whichever of these we’re engaging, an honesty—indeed, a brutal honesty—needs to be present. That is, it needs to be present if we want to get beyond the false fronts that we too often, and often unknowingly, present to the world. Actually, that’s what Swidler addresses in his third commandment: “Each participant must come to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity.”
Some people shun dialogue, because they imagine that it requires selling short who they are and what they believe. But if that is what’s happening, then it isn’t dialogue. It’s yet another way of avoiding opening ourselves to the other.
Dialogue is difficult; maybe that’s why so little of it actually happens. We talk (and shout!) past each other.
Here’s hoping our talk can be a little more fruitful!