What Is Dialogue?

Jackie McKinley, who is actively engaged in setting up and facilitating dialogue groups in various parts of the world, reflects on the nature of dialogue.
By Jackie McKinley 21 November 2019
Dialogue is a group event where participants sit together in a circle to explore the important questions of life. This form of dialogue does not claim to resolve particular social, economic or religious questions, or deliberate about academic theory. We are not gathered in the name of any particular spiritual thinking, nor in any way presume to teach or lead people towards a better way of living. Our intention is to consider together the deeper existential questions as a living reality affecting our lives and the world around us. As well as explicitly challenging and exposing our everyday condition, it is also out of an implicit quality of attention, communication and relationship that a new kind of learning can perhaps take place.

Inspired, but not led, by the revolutionary teaching of J. Krishnamurti, this form of dialogue is open and welcoming to all those interested in learning about themselves, their ways of thinking and the impact this is having on the world in general. Lack of awareness about our fears, desires, attachments, loneliness, etc. – conscious or otherwise – is limiting our very perception and outlook on life. We will be investigating ordinary patterns of conditioned thinking – not as an intellectual activity but as an animate process affecting us directly – and seriously examining whether it is possible to actually and fundamentally change.

Dialogue proposes no group leaders or authority figures. Participants are invited to think for themselves in a spirit of collaboration, not competition or hierarchy. We are conditioned to follow teachers, bosses, leaders, and experts; we feel secure copying and following their ideas, rephrasing their insights, and generally leaving it to somebody else to know what to do. Thinking for ourselves is not an easy task and necessarily requires unbiased observation as well as honesty to see the truth about ourselves. When we begin to see through mind-sets that have been actively running our lives, a vital interest is naturally generated. Learning is experienced as a spontaneous discovery of something new rather than a more traditional learning that absorbs what has already been commonly accepted as true.

Fast-held opinions and judgements can keep us from actually finding out about our own and others’ thinking. Words and repetitive discussion can give us a limiting sense of being in control or apparently possessing the solution. Quite differently, in dialogue, our intention is not to come to any final solutions or conclusions, but to listen and probe beyond our treasured fixed ideas and learn as we go along: learn from what we don’t already know.

In this field of dialogue, mere interesting conversation and casual inquiry does not have the energy to break through the habits and traditions of who we are. If we are willing to leave the well-trodden paths of established thinking and venture into an atmosphere of observation, exploration, care and integrity, a new quality of connection and feeling between people and towards the world may come about. This ephemeral quality cannot be measured, evaluated or even specifically verbalised; it may even operate unconsciously. Perhaps it is this quality and energy that could be fertile for real learning and creative thinking. 

In these modern times where change and intelligence seem so desperately needed, is there an inner revolution that could potentially contribute to creating a new way of living and a very different world? Let’s find out.