I have bemoaned the lack of sustained engagement in online communications as one of the reasons why I have been skeptical of even the chance that dialogue might occur online. However, in my schema for dialogue I do not include as a criteria for dialogical space that and engagement must be sustained.

In fact, it’s not the sustainability of discrete instances of dialogical environments but rather, I believe, it is possible for even momentary discrete instances each in isolation from others that can offer seeds of overall dialogic process. These moments seem to me to have long laster effect, far beyond the moment itself. And, even a single moment could catalyze transformation far in the future. The ability to connect these remote nodes in delayed causal relationships must be difficult to verify or even to identify, even perhaps for the individual or individual experiencing that transformation.

Bohm recognized that dialogue groups do not last, and yet they are a worthy enterprise in the moment and in an overall meta-pattern of engagements.

Though some engagement may be momentary and appear isolated from any others, it must be enough for seeds to be planted in this manner. One does what one can to create, instigate an overall dialogic shift; and even isolated moments participate in this overall meta-pattern.

Willingness and ability

I would likely add that the conduit from criteria to an emergent dialogue is ability, or skill. This implies that skill is not necessary to develop a dialogic environment, but that the ability is an important factor in whether an emergent dialogue develops. While willingness is necessary, ability can be developed over time. It is the cultivation of this dialogic ability in self and other within dialogical space that creates reciprocal relationships between entities in the form of positive feedback within the system.

In the circles of engagement, the innermost circle is one where the participants move closer together through willingness by cultivating dialogic ability in their collective relationship. Like a precision stunt team, the skills of the members determines how close the stunt formation may be risked. So too the ability of participants in dialogic process determines how tightly the relationships within dialogical space can form. I sense that the likelihood and speed at which dialogue emerges is determined generally by this closeness of these dynamic, systemic relationships.

Dialogical and dialogic

Dialogical is to have qualities that are similar or near dialogue. Dialogic is to be like dialogue. Dialogical is related to or to be of like dialogue. Dialogic is to have the form or to be an instance of dialogue. This structure is like the use in Turner of liminoid and liminal; but where the liminal, in spite of the technicality of the word meaning related to limina, is the closer, deeper liminality than the liminoid which is to have the appearance or form of the liminal. (I suspect that Turner was stuck with developing the term liminoid, where liminal would have been technically better, due to the already existing use of the term liminal. He thus needed to find a term which was further from the limina than liminal in meaning.) To put this another way, the dialogical is like a simile where dialogic is the metaphor for dialogue.

Dialog and dialogue

The distinction between dialog and dialogue in my own writing is intentional. Although the terms in the dictionary are interchangeable, I have chosen to use them intentionally to help make clear when I am talking about merely communication, or a fragment of communication, versus that special form of communication which I mean by the use of the term dialogue. I mean to demonstrate that dialogue is not all communication, as some common use would have it, but when using that term I mean that special subset of communication which has the conditions and criteria I’ve outlined and talked about. Dialog can be still a bit ambiguous in that it means both a unit of speech and the medium of multidirectional communication in general, but I am satisfied with my distinction as being enough to operationally clarify my meaning when writing about dialogue as a discipline.

Enabling dialogical space for contentious issues

Conflicts where participants are inflexible are examples of conflicts around which dialogue is essentially precluded because the spaces where conversations about those conflicts are not characterized by good faith and suspension of judgment. These are dialogue resistant conflicts. The question of how to create dialogical spaces from which dialogue can emerge around these issues and conflicts is one of particular interest to me as a practitioner.

McSheffrey’s (2000) work places the rebuilding of Derry, including the building of the city walls and the subsequent renaming of the city, in the context of difficult planning that involves value judgments about people, politics and religions. These are certainly environmental factors that relate to the community and community ability to have time place and inclination to dialogue. In my 2004 case study, when I visited the city, I examined some ways that the environment, the very natural and human landscapes, appeared to create opportunities to enter into dialogical space around issues that were otherwise dialogue resistant.

In situations, environments or relationships which are dialogue resistant, it may be necessary to do foundational work creating willingness and good faith, and perhaps even re-humanizing the enemy enough to allow for suspension of judgement. Christina Baldwin () suggests that the circle was a primary form of social organization, which was lost. The work of Carol Lee Flinders () suggests that there are concurrent traditions in western society stemming from the advent of agriculture which included relational primacy.

Beverly Brown, author of In Timber Country, speaks of sharing ‘sticky rice’ which is her metaphor for the way in which sharing meals creates bonds between people. A more technical term for this comes from Christian theology is commensality, the sharing of meals as an act of community. While I certainly agree the creating time and place for dialogue is essential, as I’ve pointed out in the past, there must also be some intentionality and purpose.

I summarized some of the work done in the Olympia community around the local impact of the Palestine-Israel conflict inspired by Compassionate Listening as suggesting that in some cases dialogue becomes part of the problem when the foundation isn’t there to recognize the essential and interdependent humanity of the other (Bell, 2004). One primary tasks of the Compassionate Listening Project is to create for the participants a safe place to both speak and to be heard as an experience of these which they may not have had before. The speaking and listening is essential to a process of discernment that reveals the fundamental connection between humans. However, Compassionate Listening occurs in an intentional space.

Intentional spaces, whether ritual, theatrical or political are all similar to enabling dialogical spaces; and each have histories of enabling relationships to form in spite of contentious issues or dialogue resistant conflict. This suggests that the intentional work to create these enabling spaces is part of the foundation for dialogic process, and eventually over time can create the opportunity for dialogue to emerge around event the most contentious issues.