As an old Burt Bacharach song says, ‘what the world needs now is love, sweet love…’ I would change it slightly, not to deny the need for love, but to suggest one simple way to actually make this happen: what the world needs now is real conversation….
Today, there is a lot of talk but little conversation. There is a lot of communication but little connection. I am proposing a simple process that will enable us to engage in a real conversation and connect us in ways that will allow new, exciting, life-giving things to happen. The other day I came across a little book I read years ago called Conversation by Theodore Zeldin, an English philosopher and historian, that demonstrates what good conversation can do to our lives:
Humans have already changed the world several times by changing the way they have had conversations. There have been conversational revolutions which have been as important as wars and riots and famine. When problems have appeared insoluble, when life has seemed to be meaningless, when governments have been powerless, people have sometimes found a way out by changing the subject of their conversations, or the way they talked, or the persons they talked to. In the past that gave us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, modernity, post-modernity. Now it’s time for the New Conversation.
The kind of conversation that the writer refers to is one which you enter with a willingness to be changed, to emerge a slightly different person. This kind of conversation is an adventure, a search, an experiment; there is nothing certain about it; it involves risk.
Conversation like this is not just about conveying information or sharing feelings, nor is it about convincing or insisting. This conversation is essentially about meeting: the meeting of differences – different perspectives, different assumptions. When this kind of meeting happens, ideas are not just exchanged they are transformed, reshaped; new insights are drawn from them; new directions begun. When minds and hearts meet there is a spark: it is the spark of life, no less than the spark that ignited the supernova explosion that gave birth to all we know as the world. In fact, it is the same spark. The same impulse that initiated what we call ‘The Big Bang’ continues to ignite new explosions in earth and sky, and in minds and bodies.
So, the kind of conversation I am talking about here is natural, innate; we know how to do it. In a sense, all we have to do is participate in the magic. And that’s what I’m inviting us to do: join the conversation that is already going on, that has been going on since the beginning; be part of the endless evolutionary process of adaptation that will enrich our lives and transform our societies.
The word dialogue comes from two Greek words – dia which means ‘through’ and logos which refers to ‘meaning’ – that together describe the universal process of participating in the unfolding of meaning. This is how life happens. This is what it means to be alive. Dialogue-conversation is our unique human way of participating in the great mystery, and joining in the dance of the universe.
This project is an invitation to join in this dance in a very simple way. All you need is a little courage: the courage to share a small piece of your truth. The good news is that we can give each other this courage with a tiny touch of vulnerability, which means nothing more than just showing up. As one of my poet friends, William Stafford, says:
And so I appeal to a voice, to something
a remote and important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
Which brings me to a final thought: this is critical work. It may indeed be simple – though some would say otherwise – but today it is essential for all kinds of reasons. To paraphrase Bacharach again, ‘what the world needs now is sweet, simple conversation.’ The last word goes to Stafford:
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line my discourage them back to
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.