The “deep dialogue”: an exercise in slow thinking

The “deep dialogue” is a form of communication that explores a theme of urgent and topical significance in a polarised community (family, city, country). Despite fundamentally different views on the theme, participants in the dialogue explore whether they can find common ground. At the heart of the conversation is the examination of the different positions from principles that are shared. The ultimate goal of the deep dialogue is to strengthen the collective resilience to cope with existential risks. We do not have to agree with each other, but it is already a great contribution to collective resilience if we understand each other.

The form of the dialogue is a small group of 15/20 participants who converse in a circle. Participants are selected because of their different positions in relation to a -locally important- theme. Among the preconditions are: safety [no publicity; no recording] and patience [several conversations about topics may be necessary]. The moderator explains what assertive speaking (in communicative freedom) and empathic listening mean. Controversiȅle topics in a highly polarized community may require “listening training” prior to the dialogue.

The usual forms of conversation – discussion and debate – are insufficient to arrive at sustainable common insights that can form the basis for cooperation on the road to collective resilience. In the deep dialogue, the starting point is the joint investigation of a theme. Essential in the deep dialogue is listening attentively (“have I really heard what the other person is saying”) and speaking attentively (“do I know what I really want to say; and do I know whether this contributes to the theme to be researched”). The deep dialogue searches for shared insights beyond one’s own position. In the deep dialogue there is time and space for all participants to tell their story and to be listened to with respect. Presuppositions belong to each story and the moderator helps to articulate them using the Socratic method. All participants share personal experiences related to the theme to be explored. The deep dialogue is not so much about discussing a theme as about investigating points of view on the theme and exploring common principles. 

In order to give the deep dialogue project a lasting form, it may be necessary to guide library staff in a learning trajectory “conducting a dialogue”.  The Rescue our Future Foundation can facilitate this.

Note 1: The Socratic conversation is an exploration of the validity of our knowledge, prejudices and assumptions. In a Socratic conversation, participants account for what they believe or believe they know.

Note 2: An important aspect of the dialogue in the library is that if there is uncertainty about the factuality of an assertion, the books may provide a definitive answer. 

Note 3: In a listening training course participants discover how poorly we often listen to each other and learn to improve the art of listening.

The project “deep dialogue in the library” is a “pilot” that will be tested in the course of 2021 in the Netherlands, Aruba, Mexico, the USA and Surinam.