Yesterday afternoon I moderated a dialogue at UST law school sponsored by two student groups – the St. Thomas More Society, our Catholic law student association, and Outlaw, which educates members regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. The subject of the dialogue was same-sex marriage and related issues.
Recognizing that there are sharply divergent views on this issue but that we live as part of the same community, the students hoped that their dialogue would allow them to “find a level of understanding and, if possible, commonality that will allow us to engage each other in more respectful and loving ways without losing sight of substance and real differences in our views.”
We had four panelists (two students from each of the sponsoring groups). They started the dialogue by each making an initial statement of who they were, why the issue was important to them and what their perspective was. They then each posed one question to the members of the other group, after which we invited participation by the audience.
I was very proud of both the four students who were the panelists and of all those in the audience who participated in the discussion. Diverse views were expressed – and some quite strongly. But the conversation was conducted in a respectful manner, without any of the name-calling or other insulting behavior that often accompanies such discussion. What I experienced was people trying to both convey their own views and to understand the views of those with whom they disagreed. And what I saw was an emphasis on how to be in relationship with each other…how to love. It was particularly rewarding to listen to the four panelists talk about how they grew in relationship with each other during their long discussions in preparation for the event.
One of the students on the panel drew a distinction I thought was an important one for diverse people trying to live in community – a distinction between changing views and broadening perspectives. The former, he observed, is not necessary for the latter to take place. And that is really what yesterday’s dialogue was about – not an effort by anyone to change the mind of the other (an effort that often results in hostility and defensiveness), but a mutual effort to help (very small) part in it.