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The Miracle of Dialogue

Dr. Ken Larsen

About 40 years ago I read a book.  The Miracle of Dialogue  written by a pastor, Reuel Howe.  It’s out of print but you can sometimes find a used copy.  The book has had a profound influence on my life.  I’ll share with you   Dr. Howe’s  opening paragraph.  It is rich in meaning:

“Every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.  Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another.  Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body.  When the flow of blood stops, the body dies.  When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.  But dialogue can restore a dead relationship.  Indeed, this is the miracle of dialogue: it can bring relationship into being, and it can bring into being once again a relationship that has died.”

We have come to realize that meeting our need for love and belonging can only happen when we connect with another.  There are many ways of connecting, but the ability to communicate and share our meaning with another is paramount.

If dialogue is so important, why do misunderstandings and conflict arise among us?  I submit one major obstacle is that each party in the dialogue has a  different meaning for the same experience.


What can we do to overcome this obstacle?  I believe it starts with what we want from our dialogue.  Are we just waiting for the other person to shut up so we can tell it like it REALLY is?  Sadly I see that sort of thing happening a lot.  We start out with the compulsion to be understood and we will push our point of view with that end in mind.

What if we would turn that around?  Rather than being preoccupied with being understood, why don’t we make the choice (Yes, it is a choice and it takes effort) to start with working to be sure that both parties are understood and that a meeting of meanings has occurred?  Dialogue is possible when there is common ground.  It takes a certain level of determination and patience to find that common ground.


Let me share an example I had with one of my daughters a while back.  She was an English major and had been reading a biography of Lord Byron.  I was involved in some project and Naomi came into the room wanting to share what she was reading.  “Dad, did you know Lord Byron’s heart was buried in Greece?”  I blurted in response, “Why would anyone want to bury a heart in grease?”

She looked at me funny, knowing that something wasn’t connecting in our exchange.  She caught it first, “Daaaad (you know how daughters can make that one syllable word stretch out a long ways)  it wasn’t bacon grease, it was the country of Greece.”  We both started to laugh.  After that exchange I began to wonder just how many misunderstandings and conflicts have started with just such a simple missed meaning.

To enhance our mental health and happiness, let’s agree that disagreements have no right to happen until there is agreement that both parties have the same meanings for the same words.