I attended a presentation recently where the person speaking was talking about when it is and is not appropriate to challenge your host's views, perhaps at a dinner party or other social event. He noted that in some cultures, it's perfectly appropriate and expected to have a heated discussion about the topic at hand, and that it is done without introducing any sense of offense, malice or personal attack. In the U.S., he noted, we tend to make (and take) everything so personal that it is generally not acceptable to challenge someone's views unless (the narrative goes) you are prepared to take extraordinary measures to dance around their ego and perhaps walk away never to speak to each other again.
As I thought about these observations (which I suppose are fairly obvious to those who hop between cultures), I realized that I'm definitely someone who prefers to be challenged, and who gets the most out of a conversation when I feel safe doing the challenging. But I know that in the course of seeking healthy dialog, especially dialog in the public sphere amongst relative strangers, it can still be quite a balancing act to engage in challenge with a positive outcome. And I worry that our fear of challenging or being challenged, or being out of practice with actually doing it, means that we end up missing out on great opportunities for conversation and building shared vision with those around us.
So I thought it worth writing down some of the ways that I find useful to challenge and be challenged, in hopes of eliciting comments and refinements from others who find themselves aware of their own tendencies and preferences in these areas.
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