The time for Compassionate Dialogue is NOW
By Dr. Nancy Dome
Throughout America, one thing has become clear: We need Compassionate Dialogue™, and we need it now. As a nation, we’re more divided than ever. We can’t seem to agree on what’s fact and what’s fiction. And, instead of engaging with people who disagree with us, we cut them out of our lives and, indeed, our very awareness.
Sonoma Valley, as amazing as it is, is no exception. In the midst of the growing pains of figuring out what Sonoma is and what it should be, people — and indeed, whole communities — are growing more disconnected from each other every single day.
Many people in our community (along with the rest of the country) recognize there are divisions between races, genders, religions, ideologies, generations, and more. That’s to be applauded, because developing that awareness is crucial if we want to find ways to bridge these divides. However, far too often, even though people are aware of the divisions, they don’t know how to move forward and heal.
That’s where Compassionate Dialogue comes in. With Compassionate Dialogue, instead of walking away from a conversation or interaction frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, or guilty, you can engage, disagree, heal, grow, and move forward in a way that is humane to both parties. Best of all, it offers a way to achieve this on an intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational level.
We deserve more from each other
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone you’ve known for a long time does or says something you fundamentally disagree with? Maybe they post something on social media that makes you angry. When that happens, what do you do?
If you’re like many people today, you cut that person out of your life. You don’t talk to them about it or try to understand them or repair the relationship. But here’s the thing: we deserve more from each other.
Compassionate Dialogue (and the RIR Protocol I developed to implement it) gives us the tools to engage with people — even when they anger us — compassionately and directly. Often, this starts with intrapersonal work: being compassionate with yourself as you feel your feelings.
Indeed, that’s the first “R” in RIR: recognize. Recognizing means giving yourself permission to feel the rage, the anger, the sadness, the disappointment. It reminds you that you can have all those feelings and still show up compassionately with somebody you have nothing in common with, or with whom you disagree, and have a productive conversation.
Showing up differently
Often, people realize they need to do intrapersonal work because they’re trying to solve an interpersonal conflict with someone else. Sometimes, though, you may not have a conflict; you may just realize you don’t have a good understanding of people who are different from you.
In that case, your intrapersonal work is to spend time with those you think of as “other.” Why? Because that’s the only way to learn there are more similarities between you than differences.
Compassionate Dialogue guides us in these situations, too. It asks us to recognize our own biases, to acknowledge and challenge them, and then to decide we’re going to show up differently. Rather than being combative, we do the work, over and over, of recognizing and interrupting (the “I” in RIR) our biases and our prejudices.
Ultimately, that allows us to step outside of our hate or our fear or our righteousness. By engaging in intrapersonal work of this nature, we learn that we don’t have all the answers, and that as long as we try to impose solutions on others without doing the work necessary to show up and hear them, we remain part of the problem.
Dismantling oppressive organizational systems
As important as Compassionate Dialogue is on an individual level, it is equally important on an organizational level. Think about it: So often, it can feel overwhelming when you try to figure out how to dismantle the systems that have historically kept groups of people marginalized.
Where do you even start? The answer: You start in the same place you would if you were tackling an interpersonal problem. You start with the RIR Protocol.
The beauty of Compassionate Dialogue is that it doesn’t matter whether you start at the intrapersonal level, the interpersonal level, or the organizational level. The work is the same. It still uses the same principles of recognize, interrupt, and repair (the final “R” in RIR).
The difference is that, at the organizational level, the recognition relates to your feelings regarding policies and procedures in the organization that are potentially problematic. It asks that if you recognize something is wrong, you involve others in addressing the inequity you see.
Essentially, to get systemic, organizational change, you have to do the intrapersonal work. You have to harness interpersonal engagement. And you have to be willing to go through many smaller interruptions and repairs to get people on board with the need for change.
Take the first step
The importance of Compassionate Dialogue cannot be overstated. On every level, we need it. So, what is one thing you can do, today, to start on this journey?
Perhaps you see something within your organization that needs to be fixed. That’s a great place to start, but remember, achieving the outcomes you want will require intrapersonal and interpersonal work, too.
Maybe you have a problem with a neighbor or family member. In that case, you may start at the interpersonal level, but along the way, you’ll have to do intrapersonal work. And, since you work together, you may find there’s a deeper impact that you have to figure out and address.
The bottom line, though, is that as long as you start somewhere — and you do the self-reflection and the interruption, and then take whatever steps are necessary to repair — you will begin the process of healing and moving forward. So, what are you waiting for? Truly, there is no better time to start than now.
Nancy Dome is a renowned speaker, author, equity consultant, and the co-founder of Epoch Education. She specializes in supporting individuals and teams to develop effective communication skills to support equitable practices. Her recently published book, Let’s Talk About Race (and Other Hard Things), hit #1 on the Amazon bestseller list on the first day of publication and is available at https://geni.us/LetsTalkAboutRace.