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Valuing Reciprocal Conversation

Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon

Week 13: Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

This week in Environmental Studies class we discussed environmental engagement. We focused on the importance of the Dialogic model in which one must engage with someone by both listening and speaking. It is a two way street.

We had two visitors come to speak to our class about their own experience with this model of communication: Robin Teater from Healthy Democracy and Adam Davis from Oregon Humanities. Both Robin and Adam emphasized the importance of not going into a conversation with an agenda. Their goals are to engage civilians who disagree in meaningful conversations. It’s about discussing differences in a welcoming environment where people can just be people and explain how their own life story has helped them develop their world view.

I found Robin and Adam’s presentation to be quite fascinating because I have never been aware of the importance of conversational engagement. I have always been taught that the way to engage is to teach or to simply take action. These are the topics of the debate we had in class on Friday.

“Building Bridges”

Photograph from


The debate consisted of three positions: position one “Let’s Educate the People”, position two “Let’s Take the System Down,” and position three “Let’s Engage With Our World.” Position three definitely followed the dialogic model, but positions one and two (positions that I have been aware of before this week of class) had some very solid points. Education is the foundation of knowledge, and without some education, it can be impossible to have a productive conversation. Position two’s plight for taking global action rings true to me because at some point, large scale action needs to be taken. While I may not agree with some of their more radical points of “tearing down” civilization, I do believe that there is an importance in protesting that we cannot deny.

What I gathered from the three positions was that we should be combining all three. In order to make change happen, it must happen on the individual scale and the global scale. We must engage in conversations with each other so that we do not antagonize “the other side.” It is important to hold onto the idea of engaging with people in this way. We must acknowledge that those who disagree with us have a completely different point of view, and that they are people too. If we try to address disagreements with the idea that we are right and that we must educate the other side, we will never be able to engage across difference.