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What if we had a different kind of conversation? That’s what I’ve been wondering.

I watched a good bit of the hearings a couple of Thursdays ago, when Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and then Supreme Court Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh both testified.

And then I watched the Facebook posts. Some subtle and brief, others lengthy and fierce. If the person who made the original post had a diverse enough following, the dominoes fell – one way and then the other – in their predictable patterns. Two or three days and ten or twenty comments later, threads trailed off into nothing or into ‘agree to disagree’ or into ‘I need to be done here. God bless.’

Is Silence Complicity?

I didn’t post anything about the hearings on Facebook and I carry some shame about that. And yet, I hesitated to post for some valid reasons:

  • I just don’t know if the Facebook world of typed-words is the place to have these kinds of conversations. If most of communication is non-verbal, aren’t we missing quite a bit by dialoging on a communication platform that doesn’t include tone, body language, or facial expression? What if we tried posting videos of ourselves communicating our thoughts and only received video comments on our posts – video comments from our friends talking TO or WITH us instead of writing AT us? What if we could see each other’s faces? What if we could be seen by each other, rather than just being read by each other? (I tried this yesterday, by the way. I posted a video proposing just this kind of communication, and when I tried to post a video comment to be the first to answer the questions I had posed, the comment wouldn’t load. So, maybe that won’t be a thing [I was so hoping it could be a thing!]).

  • I also don’t know if the format (opinion / counter-opinion, ad nauseum; fact / alternative-fact, ad nauseum) is the best format for these kinds of conversations (whether they happen through typed-word or spoken-word).

Can Conversations be Contained?

A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the ‘Container Conversation.’ A Container Conversation creates a crucible of sorts, within which conversation participants experience both safety and challenge. The facilitator of the kind of Container Conversation I was introduced to established some shared values and parameters and then gave participants the opportunity to answer these four questions:

  • On a scale of 1-5, how anxious are you about (topic)? (Where ‘1’ is not anxious at all, and ‘5’ is at the point of fighting, fleeing, or freezing.)
  • If your answer is above a 1, what is the threat that you are experiencing? (In other words, if there is anxiety, there is a threat – be it real or perceived – that can be named.)
  • When it comes to (topic), what are you curious or wondering about?
  • Who do you want to be in this conversation?

When I was first introduced to this Container Conversation, I remember feeling dissatisfied at the end. The ‘topic’ had been same-sex marriage, and at the end of the conversation, no one really knew where anyone else stood on the issue. What did we even accomplish by talking about our anxieties and curiosities? “When are we going to have the REAL conversation?” some of us asked. The conversation facilitator said, “I want you to wonder if this just might be the real conversation…”

Well, later in that very day, I had a 2-3 hour conversation about same-sex marriage with someone else who had been part of the Container Conversation. There were lots of opinions and counter-opinions, a few facts and yes, perhaps some alternative facts. In some ways it felt like the ‘REAL’ conversation, but I don’t know that we could have had it with as much candor and creativity and mutual respect if we had not first waded through the anxieties and curiosities.

I have had a few conversations like this since then. I wish I had time to do this more often. I wish I took time to do this more often. In my failed attempt to start a video-Facebook-container conversation, I concluded my answer to the question, “Who do you want to be in this conversation?” by saying, “I want to be a Jesus-follower. And Jesus doesn’t run; he walks.” By which I mean, the best conversations take more time than we think we have, but are worth all the time that we give them.

I would love to hear (in the comments here – typed-word is fine, and really, all that is possible here!) what your experiences have been with really fruitful formats or productive platforms for conversation.

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

7 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I found this a difficult post to read. My eyes had a hard time scanning it and keeping track of the information.

    • heididejonge says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Daniel. There was some weird font-stuff going on that I couldn’t figure out how to fix, but content-wise, it was certainly not my tightest writing. Thanks.

  • admin says:

    I’ve cleaned up the font styling issues. Let us know if it’s an improvement.

    /John

  • Karl Westerhof says:

    Thanks! I think there is a time issue, a skill issue, as well as the need to CHOOSE to engage or not. And then there’s the motivation issue… am I mostly angry, or do I need to score a point, or maybe just long to be heard, or maybe I think I could offer a Christlike comment? Being thoughtfully engaged in this kind of dialog is especially important in our superheated political setting. I often find myself in avoidance mode. I long for the church to be more proactive in offering safe and well- facilitated spaces for healthy dialog. Thanks Heidi, for inviting this kind of exchange.

  • Ann says:

    Thank you for this Heidi! I love this idea… wondering if you can refer me to more information on how to facilitate a Container Conversation? I feel the same about posting anything political on Facebook. I’ve found it nearly impossible to have “healthy” political conversations in that venue… although I have other friends who seem to navigate those waters with much more ease.

  • A friend and I hosted monthly political discussions for two years, using a set of guidelines from Kay Lindahl’s book Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening. (Ones you’re probably familiar with, like speaking for yourself and no one else, asking curious questions, etc.) Those guidelines really helped us have conversations that were honest and thoughtful. Things did get heated a time or two, usually because a person came with an agenda in spite of our request that they not do that. It’s hard when you feel strongly about these issues! We focused on why the issue mattered to people–how did it intersect with their own story? What experiences led them to feel the way they did? It was fairly productive, and those who participated appreciated practicing good listening.

    One of the things we had to strive for was understanding instead of reaching a conclusion or finding solutions. That is the impulse in our culture, but in my opinion it skips the steps of understanding and compassion necessary to work across ideological lines. As you said, “Jesus doesn’t run; he walks.” So do people who want to discuss concerns thoughtfully and seek the good of all. The way the churches in our area of the Midwest reacted to denominational actions around same-sex relationships demonstrated how anxiety drives people to act quickly and badly. Slowing down with the congregation I served enabled us to care for one another in the midst of it all.

    We discontinued our group because gradually the more conservative-leaning folks stayed away, and we were ready to move on to something else. It could be revived with a fresh form perhaps, but we don’t feel compelled to do it right now. I really like the Container Conversation piece and will add it to my menu of options. Thank you for offering it when we need it!

  • George E says:

    I want to applaud you for recognizing the validity of the term, alternative facts. Not too long ago Kellyanne Conway was ridiculed for using it. Apparently her adversaries thought they knew the complete set of facts on at least some subjects and there were no additional facts to consider. Of course they were guilty of the equivalent of what Judge Harold Leventhal (RBG’s predecessor on the DC court) said about finding legislative precedent: people just look across the faces in the crowd and pick out their friends. Some people — probably all of us — do that with facts. So it is encouraging to read you saying that yes, alternative facts are discussion-worthy.

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