Wise Dialogue

I went to a retreat called "Pondering Wisdom," which was hosted by the Wheaton Franciscans at the Tau Center. We didn't learn about Wisdom--it wasn't a class about biblical Wisdom literature. Rather, we listened to Wisdom as she flowed around us, through us, and out of us.

That last part--listening to Wisdom as she flowed out us--was particularly hard for me. I tend not to be very mindful when I speak (which really bugs me because mindfulness is one of my key spiritual practices). How can I pay attention to my words (which really means minding my thoughts) so that when I speak or act, it is Wisdom that speaks through me?

St. Angela of Foligno said that the world is pregnant with God. Indeed, my Franciscan tradition values the whole world as an icon. Ponder anything long enough, and you will learn something about Lady Wisdom. As I listened to--pondered--the most recent episode of Inquiring Minds, Wisdom showed me four ways to help me be more mindful in my speech:

  1. Examine your credibility. If I am honest, most of my opinions are not based on personal experience, but rather on the testimony of people and organizations that I think are credible. But why do I think them credible? What if they're not? What if everything they say is false? Examining these questions helps me be honest about the limits of what I actually know. Humility is a great place to start any conversation.
  2. Meet the other. Speech is not a one-way street; when I think it is, I get myself into trouble. Perhaps the first step to speaking mindfully is to invite the other person (or people) to share some stories. How do they see and understand their world? What does my world look like when I see it through their eyes? I've realized that the best way to find common ground with another is to enter their world.
  3. Tell your story. After meeting the other person in their world, I should invite them into mine by telling them a story about myself. By revealing the imagination that gives rise to my worldview and understanding, they might be encouraged to try to see the world through my eyes.
  4. Make an analogy. Now that I know her story and she knows mine, I can see where we are similar and where we are different. Having shared our stories, we have engaged each other in a reflection of our own lives. We can now make connections between the two of us, and we will be able to enter into a dialogue.

Mindful speech is not choosing the right words to achieve a purpose--whether that purpose is to impress, convince, or offend. Rather, mindful speech is a practice for building dialogue so that we can make connections with other people. And once we can make that connection, we'll realize that we're not so different after all.