When people talk past each other it means they have not found of common reference point for intelligent discussion. It is as if their frames of reference are extremely disparate and, in effect, they are not speaking in a common language. This happens between political opponents, people from different cultures, people from different ethnic backgrounds, different races, different genders–far too often.
How do we break through such an impasse. It is imperative that we find a way. I am thinking of political schism in the United States, the unending conflict between Israel and most of the Arab world, between blacks and whites and Hispanics in America. I am thinking of extended family members who must come to understand one another–despite cultural, religious, value and personality differences.
This problem can arise when religious fundamentalists encounter spiritually inclined liberals and those with an interfaith orientation. Divorce or break-up can result when men and women or same sex couples fail to deal with underlying differences that they have brought into their relationships. They may make a “permanent” commitment without realizing that in some key areas of life they are not succeeding in speaking a common language and, in effect, merely talking past each other.
Again, how do we break through these varied impasses? It is vital that we address this problem, because in my view the phenomenon I am discussing has the potential of tearing the fabric of basic trust apart–in the United States and other parts of the world.
Skilled facilitators are needed–not necessarily therapists–who are experienced in dealing with conflict resolution. They are out there, but perhaps not utilized in a broad enough context, dealing with a a variety of issues, from the interpersonal level to the level of primary institutions, and where cultural and racial and religious conflict arise.