It was quite common at that time that someone would, in effect, throw out an idea into the center of the room to see if other people wanted to talk about it - as if it was an idea that came from nowhere, as if they had not claimed it directly as “their idea.” Apparently, just having read someone’s book was commonly being used in this group as shorthand for what a talker wanted to say - often demanding a little synopsis of the content of the book that was being cited.
Doing that functioned a little like name-dropping sometimes, which was a problem for some people who had not read the book that had been mentioned. If they did talk about the book, dialogue was pretty easily turned into more of a book report or info dump rather than a conversation between peers. It divided the room between those who knew the book and those who didn’t and made dialogue more like a classroom.
Evidently people thought it appropriate to mention the books and ideas of authors because they saw it as a way of talking about the ideas without admitting it was “their idea.” It was also a sort of shorthand for being able to skip over explaining ideas. It seemed that this particular dialogue group regarded speaking from your own personal experience as evidence of “ego attachment.” Ego displays were, of course, to be avoided at all costs. It meant people were avoiding having a suspect motive for bringing up the experience that they feared looked too much like a personal agenda of something they wanted the group to do. This was how they were carrying out David Bohm’s directive that Dialogue needed to remain free of “personal agendas.”
The group decided that many author’s ideas were all valid, but really, why not admit why you are bringing them up and where it came from that made you hold them to be valuable? Essentially, we discovered as a group that people were being avoiding admitting authorship of their own values. There was a cost when the experience of how you came by your idea was not a logical one. The fear was that it could irreverently be picked apart if it was yours; you’d be in the position of having to defend it. The advantage was, if it was written by another author it was their idea and not yours.
Then the question came out of what exactly does someone have to lose by revealing your core values to a group in dialogue? Together we realized that talking about “other people’s ideas” was motivated by a fear that we may be attacked!
So we decided to “dare” to reveal core experiences. We began to define as a group what sort of behavior was “attacking” and what was considered “investigation” and where this boundary was. This evolved into a quite codified ideal of what the group was going to put up with and for how long from people who had no clue what dialogue was.
This was a quite tolerant group, so there was little “rule-making” other than someone would ask for another topic when two people would get into an argument and another person would suggest a stop to the arguing. People in the group would come to the defense of someone they believed was being “attacked.” We identified common debate tactics that discredit the speaker such as name-calling or using barbed examples that inferred the motives of what the other person was saying. We began to just ask if we didn’t understand someone.
When we finally got around to talking about our conceptions and assumptions of motives behind our actions, what evolved was a very interesting series of observations. Many members of the group concluded to resolving to risk more personal stories of core experiences behind the various beliefs they held...and this has continued into the Dialogue group that we have going on today. It changed the content of Dialogue to a much more personal one, but much more interesting content.
Our open Dialogue group meets the first Wed. of each month at Open Secret Bookstore, on "C" and "4th St. San Rafael, CA Come join us!