Friday, November 11, 2011

A Questioning Post

A colleague of mine used to say that discussion groups after a talk were a good opportunity for people to 'burp'. He drew the analogy of a baby being fed - after a while the infant needs to be winded and then some more food can be inserted into the gap. Without being winded a small child will feel full before it is.

It said a lot about that teaching style. The speaker has the food and people need feeding; almost force-feeding.

I have always been a great enthusiast for teaching in a dialogue.  I am not anti-input. I do have some resources, training and skills which equip me with stuff to pass on. But the assumption about dialogue (Greek: dia logos = through word(s)) is that I will be as helped by the listener as the listener by me.

In passing let us note that the wonderful thing about a Twitter #hashtag at the beginning of a broadcast is that it then becomes a dialogue rather than a monologue.

For me a crucial skill in promoting dialogue is to allow others to speak once a question has been asked. I heard the brilliant John Sergeant at a literary festival a few years back. When he took questions he took all the questions then spoke a bit more on the most common themes raised.

So if a speaker says 'Any questions' I think they should resist at all costs the desire to answer the first one. Doing that suggests that the first questioner has captured the mood of the meeting. Often the answer to the first question is so long it precludes further questions being asked. Major fail. Answering questions is over-rated anyway. Telling people their question is helpful and allowing it to inform the rest of the gathering is better, much better, than feeling it is just a need to burp which can be dealt with and more input inserted.

Last night Declan, the RC Bishop of Clifton told a group of us that the ecumenical community has today begun to use the expression 'receptive ecumenism'; we approach other Christian communities as gifted people who might inform us. It is a dreadful expression - one of my major problems with the ecumenical community is that its language, in striving for common ground, becomes more and more uncommon - but a good point is hiding in it.

Let us live with each other's questions, appreciate each other's giftedness and accept that every time we answer a question too quickly we betray our agenda that these are no more than burps.

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