Conversations help us discover the unknown, including the secrets to building world peace. And not just conversations such as those between leaders of powerful countries; I’m referring to all of our day-to-day conversations. In fact, I would even dare propose that the latter are more important than the former. This is where most people look at me as if I just told them that I believe in the existence of extra-terrestrials, i.e. the look so many gave FBI Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files when he would share his theories. Perhaps ironic is the fact that my belief in the importance of conversations has to do with the lessons provided by his relationship with his partner, Dana Scully.
These two agents are almost radically different: one is male, the other is female; one studied a ‘soft’ science, the other a hard one; one has an intact nuclear family, the others’ imploded after the death of a child; one wants to believe, the other one doesn’t. But what they had in common was a desire to seek the truth and a respect for other’s point of view. This powerful desire made them willing to listen to each other’s most outlandish theories and even attempt to wrap their brains around it despite the strength of their own beliefs. The respect they had for one another made them create a learning process through which both grew significantly.
We are surrounded by amazing opportunities to create a world in which all forms of suffering can be either eliminated or greatly attenuated. But these same opportunities have, ironically enough, become their own worst enemies when placed in the hands of individuals unable to respect each other, denying everything, and dedicated to a purpose other than the truth—for example, their own materialistic and/or selfish gains—making others believe the lie and, when uncovered, often hiding behind a policy of apology. A specific type of conversation is needed to figure out how to use these opportunities in such a way that the entire human family can lead a prosperous life: consultation. It is a key instrument to uncovering the truth that is out there, and a tool that Mulder and Scully taught me how to use. Even when they disagreed, even when the situation was intense, even when there was a lot of tension in the air, they were able to consult in an overwhelmingly gracious way and this brought them both to the truth.
A non-fictional character that taught me the same is United States president Abraham Lincoln, who put together a team of rivals whose seemingly conflicting views he understood were essential in navigating some extremely tough times. To do so in our daily lives requires heightened awareness and the courage to go against our instinctual desire to seek shelter from the troubles of the world amidst people who think like us. Not only doing do will not help us, but it will make matters worse. In his book “Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter”, Cass Sunstein explains how spending time with people who hold similar beliefs tends to make everyone dig in their heels and, consequently, less prone to opening to minds to extreme possibilities.
X-Philes have no doubt noticed that this post is peppered with many known X-Files mantras. They might also have noticed that I didn’t use “Trust no one” although it is such an important one to the show’s mythology. That’s because, contrary to Mulder and Scully, we can’t afford to believe this mantra anymore. Quite the contrary, Deep Throat; it’s time for us to trust that other people, even if they are different from us, just might hold an important part of the truth.