Issue #212 / November 2022
Is it better to keep quiet, or to speak one’s mind?
LAURA, RICHMOND, USA
I have heard you mention ‘good faith conversations’ several times now. What is a good faith conversation and how do you have one?
RAY, LEWES, UK
Dear Laura and Ray,
A good faith conversation begins with curiosity. It looks for common ground while making room for disagreement. It should be primarily about exchange of thoughts and information rather than instruction, and it affords us, among other things, the great privilege of being wrong; we feel supported in our unknowing and, in the sincere spirit of inquiry, free to move around the sometimes treacherous waters of ideas. A good faith conversation strengthens our better ideas and challenges, and hopefully corrects, our low-quality or unsound ideas.
I have learned that it’s best to retract, disengage and to change the subject once a conversation ceases to be in good faith. In general, I have found it to be a waste of time to expend too much energy on someone whose mind is fully made up, who does not understand the nature of conversation and the true value of disagreement. To me, it seems a kind of inverse metric often applies to these kinds of conversations – the shriller, more strident and more certain your interlocutor, the less they tend to know on the subject. I say this with a fair amount of discomfort because there are times when I have been that self-righteous person. Who hasn’t? Who hasn’t felt that near erotic charge when the wind is in the sails of a subject we know little about? As we grow into ourselves, hopefully we learn the folly of that.
A good faith conversation understands fundamentally that we are all flawed and prone to the occasional lamentable idea. It understands and sympathises with the common struggle to articulate our place in the world, to make sense of it, and to breathe meaning into it. It can be illuminating, rewarding and of great value – a good faith conversation begins with curiosity, gropes toward awakening and retires in mercy.