Open dialogue


7 Nov 2018

In 2016 Pope Francis was awarded the Charlemagne Prize in recognition for his work towards European unification. His acceptance speech outlined his philosophy of dialogue and the culture of encounter he seeks to inspire in others.

Since his pontificate began he has been an outstanding role model for global leaders of how to achieve peace and good relations through respectful conversation and acceptance of diversity. With so many leaders in the world today who engage in popularity politics and discrimination to further their goals, an example of tolerance and dialogue is desperately needed. Take a moment to consider the leadership style of Pope Francis for his actions are illustrations of how the Gospel might be lived in the modern world.


When we consider who we enter into conversation with we often find that the majority are people we enjoy and are often similar to ourselves. Like attracts like, and it’s natural to gravitate to those who thoughts or lifestyle is akin to our own. The danger of this habit is that in limiting our personal community we create a monoculture of thought and interests. In reality, our community consists of an unfathomable mixture of thought, life experience and outlook, and although we may fit in we are not the same. In considering these points perhaps we could follow the example of Francis and actively seek people who are different or those whom we might generally avoid.

When we meet new people we are often cautious because dialogue is dangerous. It reveals our inner person and offers our vulnerability. In opening up to another person we let them know who we are intimately. Relationships are built on the foundations of respect, love and openness. If we feel able to enter into a relationship, we must drop our guard and remove the walls that emotionally keep us ‘safe’. In letting someone in we rely on them to respect what they find and in confidence accept the gift we offer to them in knowing us. It may seem that between you and another there may not be the foundations needed to build a relationship. There may be some insincerity or a lack of reciprocation that might indicate danger and limit our ability to proceed. These thoughts should not limit your honesty or interest in communicating with others as if what is said is true there is no danger of being exposed. In fact, with courage we can give honesty and offer the other an example of integrity.


Following the example of Pope Francis we can observe that the first step in entering into dialogue with others is knowing who you truly are and what you desire for your future. Without this you are unable to offer genuine sincerity to others. Without self-awareness you can never come across as being completely honest or sincere. When you meditate on these points and enter into dialogue with your inner most self, deep awareness becomes apparent. St Ignatius is a further illustration of this point. For Ignatius to be able to become aware of who he truly was he had to endure a lengthy recuperation, a 600km pilgrimage and the best part of a year in solitude at Manresa. His experience tells us that knowing oneself can only occur in knowing God. Finding him within us is the compass required for our life’s journey. However, one can only know God by entering into dialogue with him and then the awareness that is offered occurs over time. Patience is the key to knowing God and self.

The second step is courage. To enter into dialogue one must be fearless. Sincerity can never be offered the other if there is any holding back and the only reasons to not be open is dishonesty or fear. Assuming dishonesty is not relevant in this exploration, so pause to consider why fear may be a concern in entering into dialogue with another. Even if the other is dishonest there is no need to be fearful of entering into respectful, honest and considered conversation. In being completely honest there may be a sense of vulnerability as nothing is held back.


The final step in entering into a discourse is to listen without judgment. True dialogue can be attained only when we hear the other; not just oneself. Francis applies a method as instructed by St Ignatius to ensure that he truly hears and is not limited by the thoughts of what he will respond with. When listening, listen. Then pause and reflect on what has been said. Rather than responding immediately as is our nature, a pause allows us to hear. By removing the immediacy of a reply we move beyond our thoughts and responses and sit with what has been offered. This method ensures that what is offered in return is reflective of what has been said and indicative of an affirmation of the importance of the other and their point of view.

True dialogue can only occur with self-awareness, trust, honesty, deep listening, discernment and considered non-judgmental responses.

Communication is not a game where one wins and the other loses. By respectfully affirming the right of differing opinion communication moves from sound to silence and in the silence deep listening occurs. Knowing oneself and trusting in our uniqueness and inherent dignity we, like Francis, can offer what we believe, without trying to convince others and allow what is said and heard to be the foundation for a shared positive future.

This article first appeared in Madonna magazine 2018 Spring edition.

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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