I’m doing research for my next book, set to come out fall 2008, and I bumped into a great thinker who shaped a lot of my thinking during my doctoral studies.
David Bohm was a quantum physicist who influenced a number of domains, including the field of human interaction through dialogue. Dialogue is different than debate or discussion in that it invites the participants to converse in a manner that leads them to insights they could not have found on their own. It is the collective conversation that yields the better way.
One of the concepts Bohm explored was the idea of suspension. Here’s a quote from him on suspension.
Suspension of thoughts, impulses, judgments, etc., lies at the very heart
of dialogue. It is one of its most important new aspects. It is not easily
grasped because the activity is both unfamiliar and subtle. Suspension
involves attention, listening and looking and is essential to exploration.
Speaking is necessary, of course, for without it there would be little in
the dialogue to explore, But the actual process of exploration takes place
during listening — not only to others but to oneself. Suspension involves
exposing your reactions, impulses, feelings and opinions in such a way that
they can be seen and felt within your own psyche and also be reflected back
by others in the group.
The power of suspension comes when I’m willing to see the limits of my own opinions, ideas and convictions without denying their importance. When a group can do this together, each one can contribute something to the better way. AND, each person can release the part of his or her thinking that isn’t needed or maybe even toxic. This is why dialogue requires other people. It’s harder to see the toxicity in my thinking when I’m sitting by myself. Because of course, I think I’m right about everything…well at least everything important (insert sarcasm here).