Originally Posted: Septemeber 11, 2019
Jill DeTemple is associate professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University and a faculty associate at Essential Partners. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
It’s not too late to start listening. Giving ear and respect to other perspectives builds trust and a sense of community we have lost and desperately hope to regain.
There’s an opportunity to do this in classrooms, living rooms and assembly rooms. It starts with setting the stage and ground rules to promote honest and safe dialogue. It continues with free-flowing exchanges after we take a chance and learn why others believe what they believe.
“I used to joke that I was a passive anarchist waiting for civilization to crumble under the weight of Twitter and its friends. However, our dialogues and the outlook of the class give me hope for the world to come where I can listen and be heard by people that don’t have the same political beliefs as me,” wrote one student about the moderated dialogue sessions used in my Religious Studies classes at Southern Methodist University.
Smarting from another round of mass shootings and the resulting divisive debate, Americans don’t agree about much these days. Pew Research Center data documents this polarization and common experience indicates our incivility in this disagreement, creating an environment of vigilance for possible offense and experiences of isolation that can lead to extreme actions.
I’m encouraged by the power of honest and inclusive dialogue in the classroom and the potential healing power for the world beyond. As we practice what’s called reflective structured dialogue, students open up, engage and begin to feel they belong. While many professors cringe or avoid controversial topics altogether, I’ve seen breakthroughs during discussions about guns or clashing ideologies. I’ve seen conflict avoided and would-be adversaries turned to allies — all prompted by managed and meaningful discussions that allow all to be heard. READ MORE