A decalogue of dialogue

Here are 10 fundamental principles for a culture of dialogue from Jesús Morán, Focolare’s co-president.

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4 min read
Jesús Morán

1. Dialogue is ingrained in human nature

This means that human beings are more human in dialogue. This principle is found in all cultures.

In our Christian faith, we believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is one and triune. In fact, from the earliest account of creation in Genesis, we read, “When God created man, he created him in his image: male and female he created them.” He created the human being male and female—complementary, in relationship, in dialogue.

2. Each human is completed by the gift of the other

This is the gift of diversity. It means that in any relationship of dialogue I give the other my diversity. We are different, but that is not negative. It becomes negative when I want to impose my diversity on the other, instead of giving my diversity to the other.

3. Dialogue is always personal

That is, dialogue is done from person to person. Therefore, it is not primarily a question of words or conversations or thoughts.

4. Dialogue requires silence and listening

This ability to listen seems obvious, but the inner silence that allows me to tune in to someone else’s being is certainly one of the most difficult things to acquire.

5 . Dialogue is existential

I risk my own identity when I relate to someone else. This silence, this deep listening, carries a risk, the risk of my own identity. However, to the extent that it is put into an authentic relationship with someone, my identity is rebuilt and enriched through that relationship. This is what is referred to as an open identity.

6. Dialogue is about truth

Truth is not relative: it is relational. To think that truth is relative means that everyone has their own truth, which is tantamount to denying the truth.

On the other hand, to think that truth is relational means to think that each of us has a particular participation in the truth, and that is the gift we offer to the other in dialogue.

Therefore, when I meet someone, I believe in the truth that I perceive, but I offer it as a gift, because I know that I do not perceive the whole truth.

For example, I can look at a room from a door or from a window, and I will always see the whole room, but each time from a different perspective. I always see the whole room, but not completely. That’s why I need another person, someone that is situated in a different perspective. The room is always the same. The truth is always one.

7. Dialogue requires willpower

It is not only an exercise in thought, it is not a theoretical exercise—it requires a strong will. We know that establishing a dialogue is not always easy. I enter into dialogue because I want to.

8. Dialogue can only be between “real” people, and love is what makes us real

Here is an anecdote to explain this principle, which is sometimes not understood at first. When I was in New Delhi, I went to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial.

It is impressive, because they make you walk those yards that separate the house from the place where he was shot… It’s a sacred moment, because someone holy walked there.

In the same memorial there is a photographic exhibit, and among the people who appear, at a certain point you can see Tagore, the great Nobel Prize winner and poet. I remember asking what the relationship between Gandhi and Tagore was, and the guide said, “They had opposite ideas about what India needed, because Tagore was more sensitive to incorporating Western elements into education, which Gandhi rejected, because he said India had to get back to its roots.”

Then the guide added, “But they never argued, they were close friends.”

This is an example of what this means: there is only dialogue between real people; which is what happened between Tagore and Gandhi… and it is love that makes us real.

9. The law of a culture of dialogue is reciprocity

This is because reciprocity is the space where dialogue, which is always an event that yields fruit, germinates. In dialogue, something serious happens. It is generative, which means that people after dialogue are not the same, and this is one of the criteria that confirms there has been real dialogue.

10. To dialogue, we must truly reach out and touch

That is, you need to feel empathy, to suffer for someone else in order to reach dialogue. This is very much the thought of Pope Francis. We must get to the point of touching each other in the flesh and feel what being them is like.

María Zambrano (1904–1991), a Spanish philosopher who was not a Christian, said, “The love that completes a person demands that they make an offering of their own existence; it demands something that today is difficult to name: sacrifice, the only true sacrifice.”

Love demands sacrifice, and this is the key to dialogue.      

From a talk given in January 2019

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