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The Importance of Dialogue in Critical Thinking

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Professor David Bohm is best known for his contribution as a theoretical physicist. Nonetheless, he has had an interest in the field of dialogue and communication since the 1950s. He describes dialogue as a communication system with the potential to create a new world view. This is because he considers dialogue as the best way to restore peace in the world. This perhaps represents the purest nature of dialogue possible. He asserts that for one to participate in a dialogue, he/she must first get a clear understanding of what dialogue entails and what it is. This write up seeks to discuss the significant role the dialogue plays in critical thinking based on Bohm’s notion of dialogue.

According to Bohm, the word dialogue originates from a combination of two Greek words; logos which means the word and dia which means through. He points out that dialogue indicates a “stream of meaning” that flows through, between and among us. Because of these characteristic, Bohm believes that it is possible to come up with a flow of meaning throughout the group so that members can come up with a new understanding. In turn, a shared meaning will be arrived at in the group serving as a bond that will hold the society, group or the world together. Bohm goes on to indicate that the cohesiveness in the group allows the members to become coherent to an extent that they are inseparable. This unspoken level that emerges slowly in a dialogue group can hold tremendous power with the potential to make grassroots changes in the entire society.

However, he asserts that for meaningful dialogue to take place, there are specific conditions that must be fulfilled. To begin with, all the participants must get rid of all assumptions because negotiations and discussions are not the parts of dialogue. He argues that each of the two processes represent a method whereby one tries to convince or win others to assume his views. “In dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win” (Bohm 7). There is nothing like attempting to prevail or gain points and no one attempts to win over the support of others. On the contrary, the main objective of dialogue is to suspend ones way of thinking and opinion and consider other people’s opinions. Every participant must be willing to listen to other members’ views and suspend judgment without making any conclusions. Dialogue therefore requires “an empty place” (Bohm 23).This gives every participant the opportunity to talk.

Secondly, Bohm asserts that all the participants in dialogue should regard other group members as colleagues. While hierarchy and authority permeates the societies, dialogue can only be achieved if we suspend all the notions of authority where some members feel superior to others. This is supported by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the letter from Birmingham jail, when he lamented that he was very disappointed with the whites as they were the greatest stumbling blocks for the Negros. King Jr. asks: “who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom?” (82). The whites definitely felt superior to the Negros and they determined all the terms and conditions. This is the main reason why the two sides could not come to an understanding.

By creating an empty space with no program or set agenda, it becomes much easier to consider every member as a colleague. Thirdly there is a need to have a facilitator who maintains the context of dialogue. As much as every member would be considered as a colleague, the new members who might be participating in the dialogue for their first time would need to be guided by an experienced member. Moreover, some opinions which might be different from those held by other participants might be expressed. However, every participant should try their level best not to raise views to oppose other members’ views. The facilitator is therefore supposed to create an environment in which every member will speak frankly about the opinions and values they hold. In addition, the facilitator ought to keep the space void and open for participants to simply listen and for communication to take place.

Most importantly, there must be a reason for dialogue in order for members to take part. This is why Martin Luther King Junior insisted that the Negros should have been allowed to exercise their demonstration to let out all their frustration. If it did not work, they would be forced to find a better way which in this case would be dialogue. Whatever the reason might be, it will take the participants through all the frustrations of dialogue since the society is not used to it. Nonetheless, the members should come up with an environment that will enable dialogue to be achieved.

Being a critical thinker calls for one to base his actions and beliefs on reasons that are well evaluated. From this definition, it is not right to credit an individual for a correct judgment if he cannot back it up with an explicit reason. If he cannot give reasons as to why he got it right, then it is assumed that he got it right only by accident. Epicurus, Inwood and Gerson argue that every person has the ability to be happy but the only hindrance is anxiety. This is why the authors recommend that we should have friends with whom we could share our opinions and base our thinking on some philosophy. Epicurus came up with the basic principles of doctrines with which human beings should base their thinking on for them to remain happy. To begin with, he argues that we need to understand what our words mean. This implies that for one to make critical thoughts, he should have a basis and understanding of his opinions. This would enable him make decisions about investigations, opinions or puzzles so that his words would not be empty.

Secondly, he insists that the participants should develop a general view about issues that have no evidence. He asserts that “nothing comes into being from what is not” (Epicurus, Inwood and Gerson 6). One can only understand issues when he listens to views from other sources. Dialogue enables an individual to consider the views from other people and get a broader understanding of the issues at hand. This commits him to an externalist way of thinking. From this perspective, the reliability of the decision making process is the basis for the evaluation. In the externalist’s view, critical thinking takes a different status and look. A decision or judgment is justified only if it is arrived at through a process that reliably achieves specific goals under relevant conditions. In this case, he will not be able to support his views which make it a little different from what should be considered as critical thinking. However, Bohm believes that dialogue should not be based on preconceived ideas. Instead, one should be open-minded and create a common ground that would accommodate views from everyone. Epicurus affirms that external sources “give the presentation of a single, continuous thing and preserve the harmonious set generated by external objects” (Epicuarus, Inwood, Brad and Gerson 9).

Martin Luther King, Jr. insists that in order to get people together to address an issue, it is necessary that some tension is created so that the population will have no choice but solve the issue at hand. This indicates that dialogue will be arrived at if the population has no choice but act directly on the issue. The same way Socrates felt the need to create tension in the minds to save the people from the bondage of half-truths and myths to objective appraisal and creative analysis, Martin Luther King, Jr. insists that the society should see the need to develop nonviolent gadflies. He alleges that this would create some kind of tension that will enable members of the society to shun their dark ways of racism and prejudice to the heights of brotherhood and understanding. This statement supports Bohm’s view that dialogue is the best way of creating a peaceful society. In this sense, the participants will have no choice but accommodate the view of others because if they don’t, the tension might explode and raise more havoc.

Conclusion

As it has been demonstrated, it is possible to come up with decisions without dialogue, but the decisions will not be as effective as they should be. In addition, discussion and dialogue are totally different. Dialogue is the conversation a group engages in to arrive at a common understanding to a given issue. The group members explore issues, opinions and ideas and reflect on current reality, coming up with shared understanding. On the other hand, discussion and negotiation are aimed at convincing other members to follow a specific path by wooing their attention. The facilitator should therefore ensure that the participants understand the measures in dialogue. Dialogue is critical especially when the society wants to move towards peaceful reform. Nonetheless, there must be a need for dialogue for it to be achieved. This would most likely occur if every party has tried all other options and found no long-lasting solution.

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