We've noticed that the word "dialogue" is often misunderstood, misused, and even abused. "Let's dialogue" has become as common and meaningless an invitation as "let's do lunch" and carries with it nearly the same result: we're not really going to have lunch together nor are we really going to engage in authentic dialogue. Indeed, the process of real dialogue is something that is much easier said than done; moreover, it is more difficult to do than is meeting someone—even someone whom you may not like—for lunch!
Why is dialogue easier said than done? Let's begin to answer this question by first seeking to understand what is meant by the word at its "root" level. The word dialogue actually comes from two Greek words—dia, meaning "through," and logos, most frequently but only roughly translated in English as "the meaning." Upon closer examination, the various translations of the word logos, a common Greek word (λόγος), reveal that it has deep spiritual roots. In fact, the concept of logos can be found in most of the great works describing the history of Christianity, as well as throughout the literature on religion and Western philosophy.
In this regard, one of the first references to logos as "spirit" came from the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, around 500 BC. The logos of Heraclitus has been interpreted in various ways, as the "logical," as "meaning," and as "reason"; but, as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, "What can logic ... do if we never begin to pay heed to the logos and follow its initial unfolding?" To Heraclitus, this "initial unfolding" viewed the logos as responsible for the harmonic order of the universe, as a cosmic law which declared that "One is All and Everything is One."
The doctrine of the logos was the linchpin of the religious thinking by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, who, while not always consistent in his use of the term, clearly established it as belonging only to the "spiritual" realm. Indeed, Philo sometimes suggested that the logos is the "highest idea of God that human beings can attain ... higher than a way of thinking, more precious than anything that is merely thought." For Philo, the logos was Divine, it was the source of energy from which the human soul became manifest. Consistent with the logocentric character of Philo's thought, "it is through the Logos and the Logos alone that man is capable of participating in the Divine."
Moreover, Philo's confidence in the human mind rests on the self-assurance that the human intellect is ultimately related to the divine Logos, " ... being an imprint, or fragment or effulgence of that blessed nature, or ... being a portion of the divine ether." To Philo, the origins of logos as "spirit" were clearly well documented in the writings of the early Greek philosophers and the theologians of his era. This kind of interpretation of logos also received attention more recently in Karen Armstrong's bestseller, A History of God, in which she notes that St. John had made it clear that Jesus was the Logos and, moreover, that the Logos was God.
Herein, however, lies the difficulty associated with engaging people in "authentic" dialogue—it cannot and will not happen if we are "prisoners of our thoughts." In this connection, We learned a long time ago that you can never enter into a relationship with others if you believe that you have a monopoly on truth. True dialogue will only occur if the participating stakeholders are willing to enter the spiritual realm of the logos and "converse," if you will, on this deeper level. Cognitive, so-called "knowledge-based," interactions are not sufficient for authentic dialogue to occur. One must be open and willing to entertain a diversity of thought and discover a common ground by going to a higher ground.
Interpreting logos in this way, that is, viewing it as a manifestation of spirit or soul, carries with it significant implications, both conceptual and practical. Authentic dialogue, as a concept, takes on a new and deeper meaning when it is perceived as a group's accessing a larger pool of common spirit through a distinctly spiritual connection between the members. This suggests more than just collective thinking, although dialogue certainly is a determinant of such a holistic process. Spirit flowing through the participants in true dialogue leads to collective thinking which, in turn, facilitates a common understanding thereby resulting ideally in what we now refer to as collective learning. Authentic dialogue, in this regard, enables individuals to acknowledge that they each are part of a greater whole, that they naturally resonate with others within this whole, and that the whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of its various parts.
So now think about times when you have experienced authentic dialogue. How was/is it different than other forms of interpersonal communication, including "traditional" business meetings? Among other things, creating opportunities to engage in authentic dialogue elevates the human spirit at work and in everyday life. Unfortunately, this is still easier said than done!
Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (now in a second, revised and expanded edition) and Dr. Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com). They are co-founders of The OPA Way!®, an initiative to help people "live a happy, healthy, meaningful life" inspired by and based on Greek culture. They invite you to visit their new Web site and join the "OPA! Village" (it's free!): www.theopaway.com.