Dialogue: Monday Monologues, May 27, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Dialogue.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Dialogue. Monday Monologues, May 27, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

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Dialogue

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One practical implication of being created in the image of God is that when you speak with someone, it is like speaking to God himself.  In fact, many times God speaks to us through the people around us. A second practical implication is that each and every human has intrinsic value in the eyes of God. Between the hint of the divine and this intrinsic value, everyone has an interesting story to tell—if one takes the time to listen. One only cares for something of value (Benner 1998, 21).

Dialogue in Writing

Screenwriters understand dialogue better than anyone. James Scott Bell defines dialogue citing John Howard Lawson’s Theory and Technique of Playwriting who described dialogue as “compression and extension of action.” He goes on to say that: “Every word, every phrase that comes out of a character’s mouth is uttered because the character hopes it will further a purpose.” In other words, every character has an agenda. Thus, dazzling dialogue arises from the intersection of two characters’ agendas in opposition. (Bell 2014, 12-13)

The role of compression is important. Bell (2014, 16-17) writes: “Dialogue is not real-life speech. It is stylized speech for which the author, through the characters, has a purpose.” Focusing on the character’s agenda, the dialogue must cut to the chase and reveal underlying conflict, even if in good natured banter. Bell (2014, 22) sees five functions of dialogue: reveal story information, reveal character, set the tone, set the scene, and reveal theme.

In weaving a story, Bell (2014, 25) advises the author to act first, explain later and to hide story information (exposition) within confrontation to avoid appearing too preachy. How people talk reveals their character in terms of education, social position, regional background, and peer groups (Bell 2014, 35-36). Tone is revealed in how characters talk to each other. The scene is described through how characters react to it and to each other. Theme can be revealed without being preachy by embedding it in the dialogue. (Bell 2014, 37-38)

Why do I go through all these writing tips about dialogue? When we listen to each other and to ourselves, much can be learned that might not be discovered any other way.

Dialogue in Business

Corporate lawyer Thomas Stanton (2012, 10) writes:

One of the critical distinctive factors between successful and unsuccessful firms in the crisis was their application of what this book calls “constructive dialogue.” Successful firms managed to create productive and constructive tension between (1) those who wanted to do deals, or offer certain financial products and services, and (2) those in the firm who were responsible for limited risk exposure.

The importance of quality dialog within the firm or government agency arises from the simple observation that no single individual, no matter how bright or experienced, could understand the totality of the highly technical financial environment that now exists. Having an open-minded executive is accordingly insufficient; the firm culture must embrace active learning and open communication.

Good Dialogue is Increasing Rare

If dialogue is important in caring for people, in communication, and in risk management in a corporate setting, why has good dialogue become so rare? These days we are used to commentators and politicians shouting at each on television with virtually no one listening. We are also accustomed to interactions on social media that share information not expecting a response and, if one is given, the person responding is de-friended. 

It seems that our egos have become so fragile that we cannot hear anyone providing an alternative view. We even have a word for this fragile-ego syndrome: micro-aggression. A micro-aggression can be perceived by the smallest slight, like not paying enough attention to all members of a group.

In this context, it is hard for people to hear information inconsistent with their self-image or preconceptions of an issue. Dialogue dies.

Context for Dialogue

For authors (PGMS) collaborated in 2012 to write a book, Crucial Conversations, that became a popular in business circles. One tip worth the ticket of admission is the author’s breakdown of a dialog into four stages: presenting facts (see and hear), telling a story, feeling, and acting. They observe that once emotions take over actions get locked in. The formation of productive stories presents the last best chance to channel a dialog towards useful action.

An infinite number of stories can be told, but not all comport well with the facts or are organizationally helpful.  Three kinds of unproductive (clever) stories—victim, villain, and helpless stories—arise that are usually counter-productive (PGMS 2012, 116-119).  Claiming victimhood means accepting no responsibility for what happens next or even offering to help turn things around.  The same is true for pointing a finger at a “villain” or claiming a lack of power to change things.

Dialogue is Transactional

Most dialogue is transactional in the sense that even when we disagree, we both have a stake in talking and are willing to talk to reconcile our differences. This does not imply that the discussion will be easy, but the outcome of the discussion is presumably open-ended. In the framework given by PGMS, this is a sharing of facts and a comparison of stories that explain the facts.

When we start off talking in terms of unproductive stories—victim, villain, or claiming helplessness, we shutdown dialogue with an expression of feelings in the PGMS framework and try to force the other party into surrendering to our interpretation of events. This sharing of feelings signals that the dialogue is over and a digging in of the heels. This all-or-nothing negotiating strategy is likely to produce resentment and risks a violent response. It is unlikely to produce compromise because it is a strategy that shuts down conversation.

A Biblical Example

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus exhorts us to be reconciled with our neighbors before going to church to worship. The example he gives is of a man who has failed to pay his debts. Jesus says:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. (Matt 5:25)

In today’s context, a lender may extend payments or settle for less than full payment for someone unable to pay a debt for reasons like illness or unemployment, but the debtor must be willing to dialogue with the lender, as Jesus has recommended. Claiming victimhood or having been cheated by a villainous lender will obviously not end so nicely. 

References

Bell, James Scott  2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press.

Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Patterson, Kerry Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (PGMS). 2012. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Stanton, Thomas H. 2012.  Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail: Governance and Management Lessons from the Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dialogue

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

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Bell: Sharp Characters Spirit Dialogue

James Scott Bell: How to Write Dazzling DialogueBell: Sharp Characters Spirit Dialogue

James Scott Bell.[1] 2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What dazzles editors? Journeying from nonfiction to fiction writing, I have had to learn new things. Where nonfiction authors write articles, reviews, and reflections, fiction authors focus on writing scenes. While nonfiction authors focus on analysis and description fiction authors focus on plot, character, and dialogue. When I stumbled across James Scott Bell’s How To Write Dazzling Dialogue, I knew that I had to learn how to dazzle.

Introduction

Bell starts by comparing three manuscripts. The first begins with description. The second begins with descriptive dialog. The third begins with dialog between two people in conflict. Which has the most rapid pace? Which is most likely to get noticed by an agent? Bell describes the third manuscript as “crisp and tense”. It is taken from Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote (9).

Dialogue Defined

Bell defines dialogue citing John Howard Lawson’s Theory and Technique of Playwriting who described dialogue as “compression and extension of action.” He goes on to say that: “Every word, every phrase that comes out of a character’s mouth is uttered because the character hopes it will further a purpose.” In other words, every character has an agenda. (12) Thus, dazzling dialogue arises from the intersection of two characters’ agendas in opposition. (13)

 Five Functions of Dialogue

The role of compression is important. Bell writes: “Dialogue is not real-life speech. It is stylized speech for which the author, through the characters, has a purpose.” (16) Focusing on the character’s agenda, the dialogue must cut to the chase and reveal underlying conflict, even if in good natured banter. (17) Bell sees five functions of dialogue:

  1. Reveal story information
  2. Reveal character
  3. Set the tone
  4. Set the scene
  5. Reveal theme (22).

In weaving a story, Bell advises the author to act first, explain later and to hide story information (exposition) within confrontation to avoid appearing too preachy. (25) How people talk reveals their character in terms of education, social position, regional background, and peer groups (35-36). Tone is revealed in how characters talk to each other (36). The scene is described through how characters react to it and to each other (37). Theme can be revealed without being preachy by embedding it in the dialogue. (38)

Practicing Dialogue

Bell suggests that the best way to learn to write dialogue is to practice acting out or writing out different roles with a voice journal. He writes:

“How do I know what a character’s voice sounds like? I prompt them with questions and then let them talk. I do this fast, without thinking about it much. What I’m waiting for is the moment when the character starts talking to me in a voice I did not plan.” (40-41)

He advises writers to take time in writing these journals out and reading them out loud (41-42). Another way to practice dialogue is to convert movie scripts into scenes in narrative form. (42). His example is taken from Cool Hand Luke, a film starring Paul Newman (1967), one of my favorite movies.[2] Bell also suggests trying improvisation. (45)

Increasing Tension

Dialogue can also benefit from new agendas, arguments, barriers, and addition of fear. (61) Bell recommends that characters who simply act out who they are in dialogue makes for natural conflict that simply flows out of their personalities.

The classic film that Bell returns to over and over is Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (28-30). In the film, Humphrey Bogart plays a closed mouth private detective, Sam Spade, who interacts with talkative socialites, manipulative millionaires, and sleazy women who have trouble telling the truth. Conflicting agendas break out everywhere because the characters differ deeply from one another. This is what Bell refers to as orchestration because well-formed characters ooze conflict. (62)

Arguments can be playful or serious. Barriers can be cultural—think of someone that thinks so differently from you that communication is difficult—or situational. Have you ever had a job interview where the interviewer was constantly interrupted with phone calls or an assistant breaking in? Sometimes barriers to communication can be downright funny or simply discouraging.

Assessment

James Scott Bell’s How to Write Dazzling Dialogue is a fascinating read for authors needing tips on how to improve dialogue and follow convention in writing it. Bell writes thrillers, teaches writing, and works as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. His advice on dialogue runs deep.

Footnotes

[1] www.JamesScottBell.com. @JamesScottBell

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Hand_Luke.

References

Connelly, Michael. 2003. The Last Coyote. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Lawson, John Howard. 1936. Theory and Technique of Playwriting. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

 

Also see:

Bell: How to Plot a Good Novel 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Benner Cares Spiritually Through Dialogue—Part 1

Benner_review_08072015David G. Benner. 1998.  Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One distinctive of biblical faith is that each human being is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). One practical implication of this image doctrine is that when you speak with someone, it is like speaking to God himself.  In fact, many times God speaks to us through the people around us. A second practical implication is that each and every human has intrinsic value in the eyes of God[1].  Between the hint of the divine and this intrinsic value, everyone has an interesting story to tell—if one takes the time to listen.

Introduction

In his book, Care of Souls, David Benner implicitly understands and accepts the doctrine of the image.  He writes:

“Care refers to actions that are designed to support the well-being of something or someone. Cure refers to actions that are designed to restore well-being that has been lost.” (21)

One only cares for something of value.  In this case, we are talking about souls which he defines as:

“soul as referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and willing.” (22)

This is the Hebrew understanding of soul (nefesh or נַפְשִׁ֖י) which is quite distinct from the Greek understanding from Plato which divided a person into body and soul[1], which were truly divided (11).

Conscious and Unconscious Life

This body and soul unity is important in Benner’s thinking especially when he delves into the distinction between the conscious and non-conscious parts of our inner life.  He writes:

“Caring for souls is caring for people in ways that not only acknowledge them as persons but also engage and address them in the deepest and most profoundly human aspects of their lives.  This is the reason for the priority of the spiritual and psychological aspects of the person’s inner world in soul care.” (23)

While the cure of souls focuses on remedy for sin; care of souls focuses on the need for spiritual growth (28).

Care of Souls

Benner sees 4 elements in care of souls:

  1. Healing—“helping others overcome some impairment and move towards wholeness”,
  2. Sustaining—“acts of caring designed to help a hurting person endure and transcend” a challenging situation,
  3. Reconciling—“efforts to reestablish broken relationships”, and
  4. Guiding—“helping people make wise choices and thereby grow in spiritual maturity” (31-32)

I used to use the analogy of two soccer players working with each other to succeed in their game play and taking care of each other.

Benner offers 6 helpful principles (he calls them conclusions) defining soul care. “Christian soul care”…

  1. “is something that we do for each other, not to ourselves.”
  2. “operates within a moral context.”
  3. “is concerned about community not just individuals.”
  4. “is normally provided through the medium of dialogue within the context of a relationship.”
  5. “does not focus on some narrow spiritual aspect of personality but addresses the whole person.”
  6. “is much too important to be restricted to the clergy or any other single group of people.”

Christian Friends

 This last point is important—the idea of Christian friends is fundamental in Christian discipling. In fact, the first book by Benner that I read and reviewed was focused on this point[2].

Another key point is that the focus in care of souls is on dialogue between equals before God.  Benner distinguishes 4 types of interpersonal discourse:

  1. Debate“a civilized form of combat…has a focus and implicit rules that encourage participants to stick to the understood topic”. (134)
  2. Discussion“involves the advocacy of ideas and positions with resulting winners and losers” .(134)
  3. Conversation“involve the exchange not just of facts and arguments but also of feelings, values, and construals” but not to the extent and with the mutual trust required for a dialogue. (135)
  4. Dialogue“shared inquiry that is designed to increase awareness, understanding, and insight” among mutually trusting individuals. (131)

This focus on dialogue distinguishes soul care from psychiatric care where true dialogue is not possible, in part, because the talking is more of doctor-patient conversation between two parties that are inherently not equal. Dialogue is the preferred discourse in soul care because healing, sustaining, reconciling, and guiding are able to take place only when trust is present.

Background of Author

Dr. David Benner works and lives in Canada.  He describes himself as: “an internationally known depth psychologist, wisdom teacher, transformational coach, and author whose life’s work has been directed toward helping people walk the human path in a deeply spiritual way and the spiritual path in a deeply human way.”  He has held numerous faculty positions and written about 30 books [4].

Organization

Benner writes in 11 chapters divided into 2 parts.  These chapters are:

Part 1:  Understanding Soul Care

  1. What is Soul Care?
  2. The Rise of Therapeutic Soul Care
  3. The Boundaries of the Soul
  4. Psychology and Spirituality
  5. Christian Spirituality

Part 2:  Giving and Receiving Soul Care

  1. The Psychospiritual Focus and Soul Care
  2. Dialogue in Soul Care
  3. Dreams, the Unconscious, and the Language of the Soul
  4. Forms of Christian Soul Care
  5. Challenges of Christian Soul Care
  6. Receiving Soul Care

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction.  They are followed by notes and a topical index.

Assessment

David Benner’s Care of Souls is a transformative text.  Although some of these ideas here appear elsewhere, many of the discussions are uniquely Benner. For example, Benner goes a lot further than many authors in offering a theological underpinning to soul care, integrates the therapeutic ideas better than other authors into his care, and spends more time in explaining the usefulness and uniqueness of dialogue.  I highly recommend this book to pastors, other Christian care givers, and Christians who want to be spiritually sensitive in their ministry.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Benner’s book.  In part 2, I will dig deeper into some of his more interesting ideas.

Question: Do you think that soul care is possible outside of a therapeutic relationship?  Why or why not?

Footnotes

[1] This intrinsic value provides the philosophical foundation for human rights. In the absence of this theological doctrine, the secular interest in human rights is a philosophical orphan easily forgotten.

[2] Or body, mind, and soul.

[3] See (Benner 2003) Also see review:  Benner Points to God (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-u3)

[4] www.DrDavidGBenner.ca

REFERENCES

Benner, David G. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Benner Cares Spiritually Through Dialogue—Part 1

 

 

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