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This content is taken from the Humanists UK's online course, Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds The difference between dialogue and debate is noone is trying to win in a dialogue. In a debate, you’re trying to score points; in a dialogue, what you’re trying to do is understand where the other person is coming from, and they’re trying to understand where you’re coming from. So you’re listening as much as you’re speaking, and you’re prepared to be open minded - not in terms of changing your basic beliefs and worldview - that’s not, it’s not a threatening activity, it’s about your changed understanding of what the other person’s beliefs or worldview may be. And the thing about dialogue is it’s a very humanising activity.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds While you’re in a dialogue, you do engage the person as a fellow human being, and what that does is enable you to have a much richer interchange where you’re not afraid of losing a point, you’re open to learning something.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds I think there are several goals of dialogue and they might vary from one case to another, really. One is that - and particularly public things where you’re involving lots of people - the idea is to try and break down the generalised misunderstandings we tend to fall into about people who are different from us. It’s to try and get away from black and white thinking, and so that is helping build a peaceful, plural society. One aspect of of that is the area of, the idea of, good disagreement - and this is an idea that once you get into dialogue and engagement with people. If you don’t get into areas where you disagree, you’re not really taking it far enough.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds Good disagreement means you can take the basis of that goodwill and you can then talk about the areas you disagree about and you can understand them in depth, and by doing that, you can do it in a way where you’re not breaking the relationship or trust that you’ve already built up. The other thing is that humanism itself is not widely understood, you know, we’re familiar with humanist values but once you start talking to people in dialogue, what you realise that there are huge misunderstandings about humanism just as we have misunderstandings about other people. So a secondary objective for dialogue is improving other people’s understanding of humanists and what humanists are.

Skip to 2 minutes and 53 seconds What you very quickly find is that the the areas of agreement are massive and they are often the most important areas. So you may disagree on theology or what happens after people die, and things, but if you talk about what’s happening in

Skip to 3 minutes and 12 seconds life now: How do you make the world a better place? How do you interact with other people in terms of your behaviour and the words you use? There is massive common ground between humanism, humanists, and good people from almost all religious faiths. I can’t say all because I haven’t met people from all of them but all of the ones that I’ve encountered. And the other burden that many religious people have - certainly the religious people that are willing to engage in dialogue as opposed to debate - are, that they’re also in dialogue, and sometimes debate, with people from more fundamentalist wings of their own faith.

Skip to 3 minutes and 58 seconds And often what you find is that there’s more in common among those liberal thinkers, whether they’re liberal thinkers from faith or humanists, between that group people and the fundamentalists in every direction, and supporting those liberal thinkers is a positive way in which we can contribute to building the society that we want.

Skip to 4 minutes and 30 seconds We want a world where people live together in a cooperative way and that means bringing our rational thinking but also it means being human; engaging the people at a human level and building a society where we respect each other as fellow human beings. I enjoy talking with people who are different. I enjoy being with other humanists and talking through ideas and that. I enjoy developing my own thinking - it enriches my life - and if that’s not a humanist objective I don’t know what is.


Jeremy Rodell is Dialogue Officer at Humanists UK. He is a school speaker for Humanists UK and the Faith and Belief Forum.

Dialogue can be undertaken in various formats. Sometimes this is through more formal structures such as interfaith forums, the main value of which is that they enable networks to form to speak together in times of tragedy. Another more proactive form of dialogue is the organisation of public events in which representatives of different religious and non-religious worldviews will engage in discussion around a topic. There are also smaller scale gatherings, in which participants aim to meet together multiple times in order to develop the necessary trust to feel they can ask each other more difficult questions. Finally, the most common way most people engage in dialogue is simply through our encounters with people who hold different beliefs throughout our day to day lives.

Question: How important is dialogue between those who disagree?

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This video is from the free online course:

Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

Humanists UK