The Importance of Dialogue

From Ed Yourdon's photostream
I was recently reminded about the importance of dialogue. I had the opportunity to dine with some very smart and interesting people courtesy of VersionOne and their sponsorship of Agilepalooza Irvine 2011. At dinner I was seated by David Hussman of DevJam who is a very good speaker, and has a interest in philosophy amongst other things. As David got up to leave, he asked me who my favourite philosopher is. I answered Wittgenstein as I have for the last 20 years and even as the words left my mouth, it didn’t feel right.

Dialogue is the exchange of ideas and opinions and it isn’t very easy. Some people are so busy speaking that they don’t stop to listen and others are uncomfortable with dialogue so they send emails, or they simply say nothing. Dialogue about philosophy is even harder because those who study philosophy are few. You don’t have to have studied philosophy at school, you just need to have read it and thought about it. And thinking about it isn’t enough, you need to have a dialogue about it.

When you read something, or listen to someone talk, that is only half the process. The second half of the process is to discuss what you think you learned with others. This process helps you solidify your own understanding and (hopefully) forces you to evaluate your own opinions. When David asked me who my favourite philosopher I started to think about it and after some thought realized Wittgenstein is no longer the answer. Without the discussion, I would not have realized this, or perhaps come to this conclusion far later in life. After a fair bit of thought, I can conclusively say Bertrand Russell is my favourite philosopher. I am still fond of Wittgenstein and he is no longer my favourite.

So I have (re)learned that without dialogue you are missing half the learning and I resolve to initiate dialogue about the things I am thinking about. Without that dialogue I don’t know if I have really learned anything, and if you don’t learn anything whats the point?

And unless I figure out how to get people to start commenting, these blog posts are not helping me learn. Tell me about your experiences with the importance of dialogue.


15 Responses to “The Importance of Dialogue”

  1. Your sister here dialoguing … dialogueing … um, engaging in dialogue. Experience tells me that very few people now dialogue through blogs. They read the posts on the blogs, after linking to them from Facebook, then head back to Facebook to have the dialogue. It’s a very interesting thing! So, do not feel badly about the lack of dialogue here. And the take away from the dialogue I am having with you is that you might want to create the dialogue through Facebook. Perhaps consider a Robert Fayle Facebook Fanpage 🙂

    As for philosophers … I am going with this:

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
    who was very rarely stable.
    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
    who could think you under the table.
    David Hume could out consume
    Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
    who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

    There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya
    ’bout the raisin’ of the wrist.
    Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

    John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
    after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
    Plato, they say, could stick it away,
    ‘alf a crate of whiskey every day!
    Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
    and Hobbes was fond of his Dram.
    And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
    “I drink, therefore I am.”

    Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
    A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed.

  2. Dialogue is important and rare these days. Without listening, sharing and reviewing we can miss out on those ‘learning and teaching and shining the light moments’. I participated in coaching classes last year and it made me realise that so few people do take the time to have dialogues, which is quite sad really. (and I have left this comment of Facebook too). By the way my knowledge of philosophy is zilch so I hope that I get to sit next to someone one day who can expand my mind 🙂

  3. Part of the problem with dialogue is that with technology, we have created a world where everyone is plugged in or online all the time. Active listening is a skill that has all but disappeared. Discussions have become a thing of the past, it seems. In my classes, when I ask for my students to give their opinion, they look at me like dear in the headlights! I find I am teaching them how to give an opinion, because they honestly do not know the process.

    My favorite philosopher…hmmmmmm…I would have to say, unequivocally, Roger Rhinehart, my beloved. His views on the world, life, humanity are profound and inspiring. We never fail to have dialogue with each other. I am constantly amazed at the depth of his knowledge on many subjects.

    Eliza, great poem…ever wonder why there are no female philosophers??? Have you ever heard of any? Maybe a topic for further dialogue, eh?

  4. @Eliza despite what my friends have always said, I don’t think I am ready for a Robert Fayle fan page

    @Helen when you learn to listen there are an amazing amount of people capable of expanding ones mind. One part of learning to listen is getting rid of one’s preconceptions of what others can offer.

    @Linda I think it is too easy to blame the technology. Software and new technologies consume my working day yet I am learning about dialogue. If you look at all the information about agile practices, they, for the most part, promote improved verbal communications to replace the written documents of the past. The best teams learn dialogue skills thus creating the shortest path to shared knowledge.

  5. I’m a bit of a non talker or a talk too much sort. I find that I need time to let things ferment so can’t always have a good dialogue on the spot about things. I haven’t read much philosophy (but have been talked to by others about it and do find it interesting). I rarely have favorites though – I find I like to glean bits and pieces from lots of different sources – same with the small amount I know on philosophers and their thinking.

  6. @Linda – I think we tend to label female philosophers ‘mystics’, and they are more modern day, probably because patriarchal societies did not capture the thinking of women of the past. The first name that came to mind was Anaïs Nin.Then the beautiful Maya Angelou. I did a search on female philosophers and there is a long list but very sadly I did not recognize any of them.

    • @Eliza Oh, I love Maya! I will have to Google them and do some studying. I think you are correct, mystic or wise woman, would be terms associated with woman. What a shame that so many of our voices where muted over the years, perhaps the world would be in better shape if we had listened to them?

  7. @Robert – here is a question for you … and yes, it is going off track … but not really because it is still dialogue … which is the theme of this post …. Okay, how many strong female voices are there in the IT world? Agile and Scrum have very strong male leaders and proponents. Any female voices pushing forward new ideas?

    • @Eliza There are lots of strong female voices in both our company and the agile community. Until recently our CEO, senior vice president and the general manager, the top 3 positions of our business unit, were all women. I would say close to half our staff our women and that includes management. In the agile community there are a number of women though not quite as many as the men. In fact, at the dinner I mention in the post, I was seated next to Diana Larsen, co-author of “Agile Retrospectives” with Esther Derby. Overall, in my experience, the software community is generally gender blind which is as it should be.

  8. How lovely, my favorite topic- dialogue. For my favorite philosophers- they tend towards the spiritual- Alan Watts and Adyashanti. Because of my past, I’ve always treasured dialogue- the act of engaging in new ideas, holding them up like a diamond and examining every facet. Only then, deciding who I would like to be, what I would like to believe at this time. In my business, I encourage dialoguing as a healing therapy, a form of self-reflection and growth. When people give themselves the time and space, we all love to connect in such a thoughtful way. When I value dialogue, the people around me do to. I find myself in deep conversations most everywhere I go. To me, dialoguing is about sharing, synergy. In a dialogue, we aren’t trying to control or be controlled, we’re sharing our ideas for our mutual growth, enjoyment and something beyond the words we’re speaking. Why don’t I respond to most blogs? Because they don’t ask me sincere questions. Thanks for helping me clear that up! And a sincere question, what got you interested in philosophy?

    • @Rita You’re welcome. In second year university I took a course entitled “The Societal Impact of Computers”. Several philosophers were discussed, Foucault was the epiphany for me, and we also read Herbert A. Simon’s “The Sciences of the Artificial”. Simon’s book is a collection of essays that lead me to think about thinking, or more specifically the field of epistemology, the study of knowledge, and ontology, the study of categories of being or existence. I have never believed in an organized faith and philosophy helps me frame the questions that get me through life.

      • Well expressed. I had never thought about why I wanted to know the invisible threads that influenced my life. Understanding, even to a small extent, how and why I am, gives me a sense of grace that organized religion doesn’t. It just seems easier to understand how I think and make appropriate choices than allow myself to be swept up. I think it was a response to being a very emotional sort and reason became a lovely lifeline, revealing order within chaos. I focus on mind/body philosophy as I have a passion for the nature of our inner reality. It’s fun remembering that there are all forms of philosophical discussion and philosophers.


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