Monday, March 5, 2012

FROM THE MASTON READER: Monologue or Dialogue?

(Both-And: A Maston Reader, Selected Readings from the Writings of T. B. Maston, published by the TBMaston Foundation in 2011, will provide the focus of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Conference on March 8-9 at Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas.)

Many problems arise in the area of human relations because of a failure of people to communicate with one another. A major factor contributing to this failure is the inability or the refusal of some people to enter into dialogue.
The latter is one reason for many conflicts that arise between parents and children, teachers and pupils, employers and employees, pastors and people. Also, the clashes between those of different cultures and colors stem to a considerable degree from a failure to carry on real dialogue. Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," said: "Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue."
Failure to Participate
The failure to participate in dialogue is primarily but not exclusively the responsibility of the individual or group with the advantage of age, prestige, or power. There is always the possibility of a two-way monologue. Two people or even two groups may seemingly but not really be speaking to one another.
As the younger or less powerful individual or group matures, there will be more necessity for dialogue. At least there will be insistence on an answer to the questions that are asked. Parents of teenage children become acutely aware of this insistence. But the same thing is true of other individuals and groups. For example, the Negro in recent years has insisted as never before on real dialogue.
The demand by the teenager, the college student, the employee, the Negro for dialogue may sound at times like a monologue. If it does, one possible reason is the refusal of the parent, the teacher, the administrator, the white man to enter into dialogue. The more the latter refuses to hear, the louder the former will speak.
Difficulty of Dialogue
Many people prefer monologue to dialogue because the latter is much more difficult. Dialogue means that one's position may be challenged. It is usually much easier to state a position than to defend it. Some feel threatened when they are asked to defend their position. When this happens, their reaction will be emotional rather than intelligent.
Also, to carry on effective dialogue, one must be able to listen attentively and to analyze objectively the position of the other person or group. This is hard to do. We need to know, however, that effective communication depends as much on ability to listen as on ability to speak.
Many problems in our churches and denomination stem from the fact that we tend to speak in monologue rather than dialogue. This is not only true of the preacher in the pulpit but also of the teacher in the classroom and of the denominational leader.
There is not enough opportunity for people generally to ask questions, to have a chance to talk back, or to state an opposing viewpoint. Unfortunately, too many of us in church-related vocations are not competent in the use of dialogue.
Dialogue is particularly important in a democracy. There is no real democracy without it. Also, the maturing of people in a democracy will be determined, to a considerable degree, by their participation through dialogue in the life and work of the democracy.
(Originally published in T. B. Maston's Problems of the Christian Life series in the Baptist Standard, December 10, 1969; reprinted on pp. 257-259 of Both-And: A Maston Reader.)

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