Power of Dialogue

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By Susanna Paul

Your heart is racing. You feel a tightness in your chest. Maybe your palms get sweaty, or your mouth feels dry.

A sign that you need to relax and retreat? Maybe. Or maybe these symptoms are a sign that you need to engage with something difficult – that you need to talk about the “elephant in the room”.

Many of us get nervous when it comes to addressing the elephant in the room. We sometimes sidestep pressing issues like addiction, abuse, homelessness or mental illness rather than take the risk of talking about something difficult.

After all, we put a lot on the line when we open our hearts and minds to others. This can be particularly challenging when we know that others may disagree with us and call our values into question. And sometimes that risk feels too big to take.

On Thursday, (February 23, 2017), 34 community members took that risk.

Over a brown bag lunch at New Leaf Initiative, community members assembled for the first Mokita Dialogue, a monthly gathering intended to address pressing issues of mental health and other elephants in the room that sometimes hinder our success as a community. A partnership of Jana Marie Foundation and the Centre Daily Times, the Mokita Dialogues are designed to cultivate connections and enhance mental wellness through shared experiences and conversations.

Led by State High Head Counselor Susan Marshall, and assisted by community activators Georgia Abbey, Medora Ebersole, Elizabeth Goreham, and Ben Wideman, the inaugural Mokita Dialogue tackled the question, “What does powerful dialogue look like to you?”

In small and large group discussion, a diverse group of participants shared their thoughts.

Some talked about the importance of empathy, of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Others talked about the importance of respectful listening, of really being open to hearing differing viewpoints and taking the time to weigh multiple sides of an issue. The power of naming an issue was discussed – of saying out loud what everyone is thinking about but no one has the courage to say. 

Participants stressed the importance of being vulnerable but also cited power and privilege as barriers to communication between equals. The importance of honesty and authenticity were highlighted, as were compassion and trust.

On anonymous slips of paper, people listed some of their own “elephants” and several were shared with the group. These included mental illness, sexual identity, and political or religious convictions that are sometimes at odds with those around them.

Deeply personal issues like these help define who we are, but they can also isolate us from others. It is important to remember that everyone carries elephants with them.  And everyone can benefit from a deeper understanding of their friends, family, and neighbors. Talking about the elephant in the room brings us all closer to solutions that benefit the community as a whole.

So the next time your hands shake and you feel your pulse quicken at the mention of a difficult topic, take a step forward instead of back. Open your heart and speak. Your courage may inspire those around you to share step up and share as well.

And pretty soon we’ll all be talking about the elephant in the room.

Join us at the next Mokita Dialogue, March 23 at noon, as we discuss drugs and alcohol in our community. For more information, visit janamariefoundation.org.