It seems that world is becoming tribal, yet again. This has happened before, within the last hundred years, notably in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, again in Russia between 1920 and 1970, and again in China from 1930 until about 1976 (when Mao died). Each time it happens, ten of millions of people are massacred. We call them “holocausts”, of which by far the worst was in China.
All the ingredients are emerging for yet another global tribal conflict. Arguably, extreme polarisation is main one. You are either for us, or you are against us! There can be no middle way. You are for Trump or you are against him. You believe that climate change is caused by us and that it is dangerous. Or you believe that it is just part of a natural cycle, and that we should not be too worried. As for Islam, and religion in general…well, enough said! Someone called this the “post-truth era”. They are not far short of the mark. Truth these days tends to be what people say it is, regardless of facts. This attitude to truth was a hallmark of all the holocausts.
Paul Ray, who coined the term “cultural creatives”, thought things would be different. Some time ago he wrote a long piece entitled “Compass Politics”. In this he forecast that the two-dimensional division into left and right was being replaced by a multi-dimensional, multi-issue politics, rather like the many points of a compass. Although he may eventually be proved correct – the two main parties in both the UK and the USA are drifting all over the place – the current situation gives us no cause to rejoice. Beliefs and opinions are hardening everywhere.
It is getting more and more difficult to have a reasonable, calm, open-minded dialogue about anything, particularly about the big things. And social media do not help. They enable cowards and fools to broadcast anonymously without fear of retribution or comeback. Social media seem to bring out the worst in people (and occasionally the best). Although it feels a vain hope in these raucous, intolerant times, we need true dialogue, and a lot of it.
I was first introduced to dialogue in 1997 at an event in the north of Denmark. We were told in advance that there would be no set topic, and that there would be “guidelines”. These have been carved on my mind ever since. They are:
No interruptions at all, and this includes the non-verbal kinds, of which there are many. You may not be surprised to hear that quite a few people thought that they were the sole exceptions to this rule!
A short gap of silence after someone has finished speaking. This is partly to allow the energy to settle, but it is also to prevent people from competing to be the next speaker
The thread should be continued. This partly to stop people bringing in their own agendas, but it is also to show respect to the previous speaker
If you do speak, keep it short, simple and to the point
Finally, do not speak at all, unless you feel that it is really necessary. You may find that someone else will speak your words for you. This is fine because in a true dialogue you will have parked your ego outside!
Admittedly, true dialogue is not easy, and it is rare. We often want to make ourselves the exception to the rules, as if we are more special than others. As someone once said: “People don’t listen these days. They reload!” Yet the fact is that in a resurgence of tribalism, dialogue is urgently needed. If nothing else, it should remind us that there is ultimately only one tribe, and we are all in it!