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What dialogue is #2: Suspension
Hang it on up
In the first post on what dialogue is I introduced a map of conversation types that has extremely influenced how I view conversation.
Before I jump into these paths that Isaacs’ has mapped out in Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, I want to point out that all paths service a purpose. Each has its own place, its own use case. Sometimes it can be important to debate. That said, with this map, one can begin to select the type of conversation one wants to have for a given purpose.
A time for all
Here’s a picture in the context of your reading life to ponder. You and a friend have read all the books of a given author as well as their bios. You have absorbed quiet a lot of information about the author and their written works. A question arises and each of you has strong opposing hunches. A debate might allow the two of you to more fully articulate those hunches allowing you both to have better understandings of the others’ mind and ideas to later decide for yourselves what the answer to the original question is.
To contrast that picture, consider you’re reading a book by an author for the first time. Maybe you’re not even done with it. You haven’t absorbed that much information about the author and their works. You need to generate that understanding from nothing, explore different avenues, clues, characters, chapters from nothing. For this purpose you’ll want to go for the generative dialogue tool in your tool box to bootstrap your understanding of the author and their work.
This is all to say that one “type” of conversation isn’t better or worse than another. But if we always end up in debate and thus begin to think that that is what conversation is and always is and there is nowhere else we might end up conversationally, we’ll have closed ourselves off to some really creative possible learning paths.
The second idea I want to stress with this map is an obscure idea that runs throughout Isaacs’ book that lies at the core of his message about how to have generative conversations. Suspension is one of the four practices of dialogue he’s proposing. The four are 1) Listening, 2) Respecting, 3) Suspending, and 4) Voicing. Of the four I see suspending as the biggest curiosity. While I of course recommend reading the whole book and especially the whole chapter on Suspension I will try to cut straight to the heart of it with a short example.
I’m in conversation a while back about To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I have this strong hunch that the title is a metaphor for distance in the context of human intimacy. How we are deeply separate while wanting to not be so. We look longingly off at the distant lighthouse of love and connection and don’t know how to bridge the gap or “go to the lighthouse”.
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In my book club I voiced this hunch strongly and haphazardly. I don’t recall very well how I held this hunch, but I vaguely recall I’d have warded off others opposing it. I’d have protected this view from attack. I’d have taken the conversation down the road toward debate or dialectic. Once again, none of these types is better than the other, however, did I send us down a path I wanted us to go down is the question.
I could have suspended this view I developed based on this hunch.
Isaacs would say I could do this by hanging it up for all to view, suspend it in mid air so to speak. Listen to all responses to it without resistance. I could dis-identify with the hunch and be as curious about it as if anyone had articulated it. Where did this come from? Did this hunch grow out of something fundamental to me and my experience? I always joke that we’re always projecting. Am I projecting a desire for intimacy myself? How might that be affecting how I’m reading the text? What might it be causing me to miss as a result of this projecting?
This is the art of suspension. And Isaacs claims it sends us on a path to a different kind of conversation entirely. An important and rare kind in my opinion.
This bring us to the question of the day: When, if ever, was the last time you suspended an idea, thought, hunch, or opinion of your own? I’m writing about this, studying this, posing the question and I’m having a real hard time thinking of a recent time…