There was a married couple sleeping and an intruder entered their house. The intruder put a knife to the neck of the woman and said, “I like to know the names of my victims before I kill them. What is your name?” “My name is Elizabeth,” the woman replied.
The intruder said, “You remind me of my mother, who was also named Elizabeth, so I can’t kill you.” The intruder then turned to the husband and asked, “What is your name?” “My name’s Philip, but my friends call me Elizabeth.” I wish I were that quick.
Notice how Philip elevated the dialogue in that exchange. God gives us wisdom in how to be a person who can elevate the dialogue when things are fueled by anger or fear. “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of the sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18. “The good acquire a taste for helpful conversation; bullies push and shove their way through life.” Proverbs 13:2-3. That’s sage advice for living in today’s world as well as unleashing a better world tomorrow.
Have you noticed how much two-way dialogue has deteriorated in our culture today? Few people speak to people these days. They speak at people, and then they speak over people. Rather than work out issues which lead to solutions, people get “outraged,” especially when they appear to be losing the debate. Being “outraged” is generally a way of saying, “My feelings are more important than your feelings. My thinking is more enlightened than your thinking. My cause is more valid than your cause. I’m right. You’re wrong. That’s it.” “You just don’t get it!” “I’m OK. You’re so-so.”
Does this type of dialogue elevate meaningful solutions or deflate meaningful resolution? No. It leads to polarization and demonization. We classify, compare and commend ourselves, deciding who is “us” and who is “them.” Then things get personal, rendering negotiation and solutions impossible. We make our point, but we also make an adversary. That behavior will come back to meet us in the future, most likely affecting others future also.
Let me quote author Laurie Beth Jones on this subject. “Dialogue either uplifts or depresses, engages or alienates, imprisons or liberates.” It’s OK to have emotions, have opinions and feel strongly about something but not to the point of the one-way, condescending, insulting and defensive posturing that we see today. That is what bullies do. They are more correctors than connectors. The idea becomes to win the debate, not find the real solution.
There is a better way. I greatly admire what the Apostle Paul did when he wanted to address a problem or issue in the early church. He did this through letters called Epistles. His strategy was to elevate the conversation when disagreements arose. He was a dialogue “solutionary” rather than a dialogue “pollutionary.” He would start off with complimenting the church he was addressing. He would say what they were doing well first. Then he would address the issue. His exhortation never came across coercive, accusatory or defensive. After addressing the issue, he would finish the letter on a positive note. Paul made more friends than enemies using this strategy.
The Apostle James says, “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything — or destroy it! By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue. It’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!”
Why not elevate the conversation wherever you are? Be a dialogue “solutionary.” Consider these questions: What form of dialogue does my group, family or workplace use — polite, coercive, directive, reflective, accusatory or defensive? What can I do to elevate dialogue? What might the results be?
Maybe the results of Coach Paul Bryant might show a better way to build an effective two-way conversation solution-oriented bridge and get over it. Here’s his simple “solutionary” approach to winning games. “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really, really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” That’s a win-win.
Consider this: shouldn’t we let the one who made relationships give us clarity in maintaining relationships, especially when we have a killer like the tongue running loose?
The best vitamin for becoming a solutionary is B-1.