Discourse and Dialogue, the scandal of particularity pt. 1

Discourse: verb
disˈkôrs/     speak or write authoritatively about a topic.  “she could discourse at great length on the history of Europe”
synonyms: hold forth, expiate, pontificate, lecture
Dialogue: noun
ˈdīəˌläɡ,ˈdīəˌlôɡ/  a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.
“the U.S. would enter into a direct dialogue with Vietnam”
synonyms:  discussion, exchange, debate, exchange of views, talk, consultation, parley

I like to talk about subjects that interest me.  I grow passionate about these topics, and can talk or write about them for hours, as you can tell by this blog.  There is nothing wrong with having that passion, nothing wrong with wanting my opinion and thoughts to be known.  As the youngest of 7 children, I might also have a bit of a complex about having my opinions heard.  At times, one might call this discourse.

However, I dislike being lectured.  I didn’t like it in college, I didn’t like it in high school, I don’t like it at work.  When I hear that we are having a “town hall” or an “all hands” or a “round table” or a “meeting”, maxresdefaultwhat I hear is “let me talk at you for an hour or more and tell you what I want to say”.  I try to avoid these meetings, because, well, they aren’t productive.*

This is not to say all discourse is bad.  In fact, that’s precisely what I’d like to talk about in part 1.

The scandal of particularity is a theological term**, but instead of diving into theology, for those that don’t want to talk about that, I want to try to open up the human side of what it means- humans have a very particular relationship with each other, and that relationship is closer to particular humans than others.  Examples: I am best friends with my wife Melanie, more than any other person on earth I choose to share and experience more with her than anyone else.  Example 2: I am closer to my friend Doc than I am to co-workers I work with currently, even though he’s in Norway and I only see him maybe 2 times a year.  I’m particular friends with him, as I am with Mike, or Rick, etc.  Does this make sense?  There is a reason for this particular relationship, it’s part of our human nature.

It is scandalous in the sense that I’m preferring some human beings to other human beings.  I’m devoting more of my time to one set of people rather than others.  At work, in fact, we are told this is a bad thing, that we as leaders need to be seen as equally toto-africa-combined-kilimanjaro-and-the-serengeti-in-one-lyricfriendly with everyone.  In personal relationships too, oftentimes it’s considered a bad thing because it forms cliques or might exclude some that don’t understand that Toto’s Africa is one of the greatest songs ever written.  It can hurt feelings, cause misunderstandings and foster enemies and ill will.

“Uhm, ok, uh, Joe?  Sounds bad.”  Ok fine, hear me out.  As a person, I need to not be exclusive.  I need to attempt to include those people into the understanding of Africa’s brilliance.  Humanity is not an exclusive club!  But the fact remains that some will not agree with my opinions, they won’t see the humor of being able to see the reflections of stars on moonlit wings.  We are different, too.  So, be open, understand we are different.  As a person, though, I also crave particular friendship, particular when-ur-listening-to-africa-by-toto-and-the-chorus-drops-atmoistbuddha-A5HE1attention.

Which brings me back to discourse.  When I am being lectured in one of those massive meetings, there is nothing particular there for me to latch on to.  The topics touch on the collective, how the group will work, how an industry will change, even how the Church does certain things.  Is it possible to gain something from those discourses?  Yes, generally if I take it and apply it myself to my daily life, yes.  But here’s where I’d like to posit a “more”.

What if in those discourses we actually talked about YOU.  How it applies to an individual?  How will YOU fare if the job is downsizing your position?  How will YOU be affected if the coach gets fired?  How do YOU cope if your family comes into a lot of money?  (oh boy, I would love that to happen!) If the lecturer does this during the discourse, it would open a lot more minds to listening.  Why is that?  Because it touches on the particular, the individual – which is what we are.***

Discourse is a good thing if it’s concrete, offering specific examples to chew on (again, particularity).  If you get into a strange lecture about non-words (synergy, anyone?) then you aren’t in a good discourse.  I also think discourse is good in smaller groups and settings.  Picture this.  If you can see the whites of the eyes of the speaker, and you aren’t using binoculars, then it might be a good setting for a discourse.  Bunker-Hill

Another way discourse/lecture is good is if you tell the audience what they need to hear.  If you are up there just unloading on what you want to do, in general terms, then don’t waste my time.  A person is smart.  A person can take what is being said if it’s believable. A person can also tell if you are being disingenuous or lying or wasting time.

Lastly, if you need to get a message out, and the only way is to say it in a big setting, gasp, have a core group of people that then goes and spreads the message.  I know, revolutionary.  But remember, particularity!  We humans crave this!  Let’s take special forces ODA teams- trained to project US interest abroad.  They are 12 guys, each with a specialization, and one of the main things they do is go out and train others.  Then those others train others, and the cycle continues.  But it starts with the mandate, then the 12 guys having that particular bond, going out and forming particular bonds with others, etc.  (hey, 12 people… sounds really apostolic…………………………..)

This turned into a rant about work meetings.  The point though is that a message loses it’s meaning in a lecture.  A discourse can be good, but it’s impersonal.  If you narrow one-does-not-simply-walk-out-of-this-lecture-without-clappingdown the audience, you open up understanding because we are humans, we crave the particular.  The scandal of particularity is often overlooked – and in overlooking it we lose some of the humanity that needs to be there.




*In fairness, you are reading this blog and are in a similar position.  I hope that you are willingly wasting your time reading my thoughts.  Come for the pictures, stay for the conversation.

**The theological definition is that Jesus became a human being, not a monkey, etc.  It’s also that God chose a particular people to be set aside in a special way.  It’s also that Jesus had particular friends that He had that particular relationship with, that then spread His message for Him with their particular friends, and so on.  (I think I might have butchered that, but correct me if I’m wrong.)

***Most organizations say they can’t do this.  To reach the most amount of people in a short amount of time requires the collective to be addressed.  The work around of course is smaller groups of people being addressed so that the particulars can be talked about.  That means more meetings, more time away from work.   However, for any organization to succeed, sacrifices must be made and it should begin at the top.

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