Besides trying to affirmatively characterize the concept of engagement, we can also try to identify and describe ‘things’ that limit engagement (or involvement) at different levels of consciousness. And we can do this description with respect to certain topics or activities, such as communication.
In this line of exploration, following are some questions to help individuals identify limits to completely-engaged written or live communication or dialog. Quotes below are from David Bohm’s book On Dialogue. Please let me know your suggestions for changes, additions, etc., including other reference material.
Is a reference to authority or ‘the facts’ a manipulative attempt to reinforce my positions?
“. . . there is no place in the dialogue for the principle of authority and hierarchy. We want to be free of
hierarchy and authority . . . . Rather, we need a place where there is no authority, no hierarchy . . . sort of an empty place, where we can let anything be talked about.” (p. 42, OD)
Is there a feeling of pride or arrogance (not just simple appreciation or confidence) that is separative or divisive?
Is there a feeling of self-consciousness or humility that’s counterproductive?
This can be a subtle way to withdraw, disengage.
Is there an aggressive attempt to get information or agreement?
In general, are you being divisive?
Are you pushing things, restless, in a hurry, racing against time?
Are you sure, or certain that you know the ‘truth’, or what’s ‘right’?
“. . . you have to watch out for the notion of truth. Dialogue may not be concerned directly with truth – it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning.” (p. 37, OD)
“There are also the relativists, who say that we are never going to get at an absolute truth. But they are caught in a paradox of their own. They are assuming that relativism is the absolute truth.” (p. 38, OD)
Are you trying to persuade or convince someone in a way that takes sides against others and is somewhat manipulative?
“Conviction and persuasion are not called for in a dialogue. The word “convince” means to win, and the word “persuade” is similar. It’s based on the same root as are “suave” and “sweet.” People sometimes try to persuade by sweet talk or to convince by strong talk. Both come to the same thing, though, and neither of them is relevant. There’s no point in being persuaded or convinced. That’s not really coherent or rational. If something is right, you don’t need to be persuaded. If somebody has to persuade you, then there is probably some doubt about it.” (p. 27, OD)
Are you taking sides, and becoming attached to something?
Are you settling for negotiation?
“People will come to a group with different interests and assumptions. In the beginning they may have negotiation, which is a very preliminary stage of dialogue. In other words, if people have different approaches, they have to negotiate somehow. However, that is not the end of dialogue; it is the beginning. Negotiation involves finding a common way of proceeding. Now, if you only negotiate, you don’t get very far – although some questions do have to be negotiated. A great deal of what nowadays is typically considered to be dialogue tends to focus on negotiation; but as we said, that is a preliminary stage. People are generally not ready to go into the deeper issues when they first have what they consider to be a dialogue. They negotiate, and that’s about as far as they get. Negotiation is trading off, adjusting to each other and saying, “Okay, I see your point. I see that that is important to you. Let’s find a way that would satisfy both of us. I will give in a little on this, and you give in a little on that. And then we will work something out.”" (p. 18, OD)
“For example, people at the United Nations have been having what are often considered to be dialogues, but these are very limited. They are more like discussions – or perhaps trade-offs or negotiations – than dialogues. The people who take part are not really open to questioning their fundamental assumptions. They are trading off minor points, like negotiating whether we have more or fewer nuclear weapons. But the whole question of two different systems is not being seriously discussed. It’s taken for granted that you can’t talk about that – that nothing will ever change that. Consequently their discussions are not serious, not deeply serious. A great deal of what we call “discussion” is not deeply serious, in the sense that there are all sorts of things which are held to be non-negotiable and not touchable, and people don’t even want to talk about them. That is part of our trouble.” (p. 7, OD)
Are you somehow trying to win, or score points in some kind of game?
“Discussion is almost like a pingpong game, where people are batting the ideas back and forth and the object of the game is to win or to get points for yourself. Possibly you will take up somebody else’s ideas to back up our own – you may agree with some and disagree with others but the basic point is to win the game. That’s very frequently the case in a discussion. In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. Rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. It’s a situation called win-win, whereas the other game is win-lose – if I win, you lose. But a dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but with each other. In a dialogue, everybody wins.” (p. 7, OD)
Are you distant, standing outside as an observer of the other person, or the group?
“Normally we don’t see that our assumptions are affecting the nature of our observations. But the assumptions affect the way we see things, the way we experience them, and, consequently, the things that we want to do. In a way, we are looking through our assumptions; the assumptions could be said to be an observer in a sense. . . . When we observe we forget that, and we are looking without taking that into account. But this “observer” profoundly affects what it is observing, and is also affected by what it is observing – there is really very little separation between them.” (p. 69, OD)
In general, in the ‘zone’, or the state of mind of complete inner engagement, one’s inner resources are completely integrated, with no conflicts or divisions. This is accompanied by a natural sense of fulfillment and well-being. Therefore, anything creating or reinforcing an experiential split or a separation of aspects of the experiential field, including structures such as subject and object, here and there, and now and then, tends to be counterproductive. Anything that integrates the energies of a situation, or makes them more cohesive, tends to be productive. Whatever we can do to decrease the holding strength of our complexes, habits, and other experiential structures will help approach the ‘zone’, increase inner engagement, and contribute to our improving performance and fulfillment. (See Chapter one of my book Flow, Glow, and Zero: Introducing a Vision of Peak Performance for the New Millennium. For a copy of the first edition, download from: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/19843470/FlowGlow%26Zero.V1.pdf )