The dialogue of the deaf

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson
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We can have strong views about matters that we consider important, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to differ, isn’t there?

An individual might be talking rubbish, but to tell him so in a direct and insensitive ay is unlikely to encourage him to rethink his opinions.

In the same way it is difficult to imagine a positiveoutcome to calling someone stupid, or saying he is an idiot, although he might behave in a stupid or an idiotic manner. All that is achieved by doing so is to drive the individual deeper into his stupid or idiotic ways.

In this context the old maxim, ‘sticks and stones can breaks my bones but names can never hurt me,’

I overheard an interesting conversation the other day when a frustrated, and as it turned out a justifiably angry young man called his father on the phone; his opening line was, ‘You’re an idiot!’

Father retorted, ‘Don’t ever call me an idiot’, to which the reply was, ‘Then don’t be one!’

Thankfully the opportunity was presented for the father to firstly apologise, and then to explain the difference between attacking the behaviour of another, and attacking the person.

To say, ‘You’re an idiot!’ leaves no opportunity for discussion or debate, it creates conflict and entrenchment.

I think of the quote from the book of Proverbs: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Hopefully, what the boy learned from this encounter was that in the event of a disagreement it is always advisable to look for a way to create space for a discussion about unpleasant behaviour rather than name-calling. By pointing out that someone’s behaviour leaves something to be desired allows for an opportunity for each to see a situation from the another’s position. The perpetrator can say, ‘Well I did that because of...’ and the one who is complaining can explain why he found the behaviour unacceptable.

There can then be either resolution or the option to agree to differ, but at least each knows why the other has taken a particular position.

It was Churchill I believe who said, ‘Jaw, jaw is better than war, war,’ and while as we approach the so-called marching season, there do appear to be genuine attempts at some levels in our fair land, for the two sides of our community to engage in meaningful talks - and let’s not make reference to ‘two communities’ - isn’t it such a shame that we so often descend to the dialogue of the deaf, or the politics of the megaphone, with no apparent genuine effort to walk a mile in the other’s moccasins.

I have said it before and will probably say it again, when an irresistible object collides with an unmovable force, there is inevitable impasse, and often, violence. But why can’t the group that is demanding its rights to walk up that specific stretch of road say, ‘Do you know what? I am entitled, but I will not look to have my rights enforced. I’ll go another way.’

Or the group that protests against a march making its way through their ‘territory’, why can’t they say, ‘We really don’t want you here, but if it is so important to you, go ahead.’

That’s a road less travelled, it is maturity, and the first to do it – don’t hold your breath - would rightfully occupy the high moral ground. Dare I say it, what would Jesus do?