Dialogue Is Dying & I Have Only Questions by Kate Brunner

Kate BrunnerI have no answers right now. Only questions. And a battered, bruised, and exhausted heart. Where has functional dialogue gone? Where in the overculture has it retreated to? Can it even be rescued? Or is civil discussion dying a slow and gruesome death right before our very eyes? Our ability to dialogue seems to me to be a critically endangered phenomenon. So, what do we do now?

How do we grow together in civil society when disagreements over being, belief, and choice spirals so easily into vitriol? When parenting choices produce hate-filled diatribes that dominate media and social media? When race, gender identity & sexuality results in legally sanctioned violence and persecution? When political philosophies get you blown up? Your faith gets you shot in the head? Your nationality gets your head chopped off? Where on earth do we go from here?

Why can we not talk to those we perceive as other? Why can we not openly listen as the other speaks?

These questions plague me. I sit with them in still moments, sending them out in the hopes of hearing even the tiniest inkling of an answer. But I suspect, in many ways, in many forms, we’ve been given the answers time and time again. It’s more a matter of us taking inventory of what is already available and finally getting around to making decent use of it.

But what I see happening around me instead is that many of us- me included- are simply dropping out of the conversation entirely. We’re fried. We’re feeling more than a bit lost. Whether momentarily or (hypothetically) permanently, we’ve given up trying to engage in dialogue with other. The angriest, bitterest, most hateful, most extreme voices continue to get louder and nastier and so many of us who would speak from another perspective just cannot muster the energy to even try to re-enter the fray.

There are so many issues I wish I could figure out how to engage again successfully. But right now, I feel I just cannot face the inevitable nastiness and blatant refusal to actually LISTEN to multiple points of view that would follow from my sharing my perspective on any of them and inviting discussion to follow. I’ve lost my faith in civil discourse. I have no stomach for the lack of compassion pervading the greater dialogue.

So what comes next?

As I said, at the moment I have no answers. I have only my daily round and my daily practice to keep me anchored. I have only to keep living and loving and learning. For now, I have to live with the questions.

So this month, I choose to live these questions here in a small space of the internet that does seem to be able to facilitate some dialogue. I ask these questions here in the desperate hope that each of us who participate in this virtual community can potentially, some day, play a small part in reviving civil discourse “out there” in each of our small pieces of the physical world.

I invite you to dialogue with me here. What do you do when hate-filled diatribe burnout overwhelms you? What questions are you living into about where we go from here? How do you restore your willingness to re-start or re-enter civil discussion?

I am sure you and I have our differences. But I am also sure there is at least a sliver of common ground we could share. So, what could we create if we could peaceably share that ground long enough to truly talk with each other? How can we attempt to re-engage those who exist in the region of any spectrum opposite our own positions? How can we do this in a manner that fosters peace and at least begins to cultivate mutual understanding, if not active compromise? What can we do today to return to discussion?


Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army, after which, Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. In Australia, she hosts seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitates labyrinth rituals, and is in the process of establishing a Sisterhood of Avalon Novice Hearth.

Author: Kate M. Brunner

Kate M. Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon. She is a resident of Heartwood Cohousing & a homeschooling mother of three. She holds a BA from Tulane University, where she studied Economics, International Relations, & Religious Traditions. Kate hosts seasonal women’s gatherings, priestesses labyrinth rituals, and facilitates workshops on an assortment of women’s spirituality topics. During 2017, she will present at the SOA’s annual online conference, AvaCon, & at the second annual Ninefold Festival in Colorado. She is also published in Flower Face: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Blodeuwedd and The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context.

18 thoughts on “Dialogue Is Dying & I Have Only Questions by Kate Brunner”

  1. Your questions speak to the deep pain and sorrow in the collective heart that suffers from so many walls and barriers that keep “us” here and “them” there…


  2. Here in Greece I am afraid of the police and coast guard because I know that statistically they vote for the Golden Dawn, the anti-immigrant Neo-Nazi party (and here I am an immigrant too). I would not have the slightest idea how to open a discussion with them. At “home” I also do not know how to speak to the Mormon part of my family or the patriarchal Republicans. I have not seen my brothers or my father in many years. You raise a question that hits close to my heart.


    1. I exist in a very live-and-let-live sort of culture here, compared to the US. So, I don’t often experience this first hand from members of my current host culture. Something I am regularly very grateful for, to be sure, as it has allowed me breathing room to sort out a lot of my home culture baggage.

      But within my expat/American immigrant community, there is an unspoken agreement of sorts. We just do not regularly discuss anything particularly controversial amongst ourselves at group gatherings. I’ve come to view this as a sort of expat survival instinct. As expats, many of us are experiencing that sensation of being “other” in a way we have not before. So, the “others” stick together and create community in a way that would not be possible were we “at home”. I’m grateful for the experience because it has allowed me to re-learn how to listen to those who are now “us”, but would have been “them” if we were all “at home.” It’s a very small step, because we don’t touch the hot topics that could cause schisms within the expat community. But, it is a step. Putting faces and feelings and stories to “other” that we might never have ever crossed paths with back in our “home” culture.

      Now though, I find myself struggling to conceptualize how to take that tiny beginning skill set “home”– if that’s where I have to go in the future– and put it into practice there. Because through my lens from here (& taking previous experience into consideration), I don’t hold out much hope right now for being able to do so. And that breaks my heart. I don’t want to go back to burning bridges and hollering about right-hood without actually listening to other perspectives and living in fear of emotionally or physically violent retribution.

      [I do want to add publicly, that I am very, very grateful for my parents who have always encouraged dialogue. Perhaps that parental gift is one of the reasons why the death throes of civil dialogue affect me so profoundly. You have to be able to defend your position around my family’s dinner table, but you’re also guaranteed to be heard– as well as hear something from someone else that will stretch your mind & heart. And no matter the heat of the discussion, you still walk away loved at the end of the night. If I could figure out how to translate that on a larger scale, I would. In a heartbeat.]


      1. Considering that you are a displaced person in Australia AND with the qualities of
        sensitivity and empathy you have developed with your work, I suggest that you are
        engaged in chthonic healing of the songlines in your location.

        Recapitulating an experience parallel to that of the first white colonists; convicts,
        assisted and unassisted passengers. Perhaps the frustration our indigenous
        peoples felt that there was no dialogue at all. Just bullets.


  3. Your cries of lament speak to conditions that concern me deeply as well. Recently I became involved in a movement here in the US to address polarization, anger and fear through an 11-Step dialogue process created by Molly Barker, who founded Girls on the Run. The steps form the basis for one-hour, weekly meetings that can be led by anyone (there’s a simple script to follow) and they create safe space for sharing with one another as humans. It’s a very small step in a very large problem but it feels good to at least try, to gather with other folks who are concerned and want change. I can honestly say my week feels different when I’ve been to a meeting as compared to when I’ve missed it. Molly developed the process following a cross-country tour last August talking to diverse people; she found that despite labels, people really want the same things. The movement is fledgling at this point but there are multiple groups in Charlotte NC (where Molly lives), also in Chicago, Winston-Salem NC, Winona MN, Columbia MO, and Cincinnati (where I live). Read more here: http://theredbootcoalition.org/. You can also follow The Red Boot Coalition on Facebook.


  4. 1. What do I do when hate-filled diatribe burns me out? Retreat into nature. Take a long, long hike through the woods. Remind myself that whatever flame wars are circling around the internet or family dinner table, the sun is still shining, the birds are still singing and the bees are still buzzing.
    2. Where do we go from here and what are my questions? Once I have completed my nature trek, I take a break. Retreat from the buzz. Examine my own behavior: did I say or write something that escalated the anger? What buttons was I pushing? Can I put myself in the shoes of the other person? Why is everyone so afraid and what are they afraid of?
    3. Restoring willingness to re-start? I remind myself that this is “a process”. The point is not to win an argument, the point is to discuss civilly some issue and see the humanity of the other person. Remind myself that sometimes I learn more (about the issue, about myself) from someone who strongly disagrees with me rather than from a group of yes-sayers.

    Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.


  5. Thanks for putting into words what so many of us feel. I am certainly guilty of simply removing myself. By some fluke I was once a Huffington Post blogger. I read comments once or twice then never looked at them again as they were for the most part not about response, dialogue or even a critique. Just another chance for people to vent anonymously. I think the anonymity of the internet is part of the problem. We are not held accountable face to face. In this forum at least we begin to get to know each other.

    Another problem is that in the larger cultural context we have no agreed upon rules of engagement. For ten years I was a Quaker during a time when many controversial issues were being aired. Some of the differences were deep and painful, but everyone did their best to adhere to process: listening, not interrupting, allowing silence between words. I don’t know how you create an entire culture with those values. I pose that question and live with it…live it. Thanks again.


  6. Kate, this is very touching. And true! Smart phones and constant connection are not, indeed, always good. I’m glad FAR has a generally safe community and we’re polite to each other. As for email–thank Goddess for the delete key! And I’ve stopped watching highly partisan cable channels. Thanks for asking your questions.


  7. Thank you for your heartfelt words, Kate. I really understand what you’re saying. My response, quite similar to nmr is to:

    1. Give thanks at the start of each day and pray that I will find some way of connecting with the strangers I meet in the next 24 hours.
    2. Walk and breathe deeply, appreciating the wonder of Life. I always look up, in the midst of cities, and listen out for birdsong. I don’t check my smartphone, or listen to downloads – I prefer to live as a human being in the real world.
    3. Post only what reflects my values, on a wide variety of sites, and my Fb page, mostly in my own name.
    4. Ask other people their opinions about something horrific that’s just happened – not to pass judgement, but just to understand someone else’s perspective. When the recent, horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks happened, I was running a series of meetings with Service Desk (call centre) staff in Manchester, north west England. 40% of one team were Muslim, and they spent the first 15 minutes of the meeting talking about it, and how they felt – they were absolutely devastated. Everyone there – from 19 – 59, agreed on the need for more tolerance and a peaceful way of living.

    Personally, I do discuss difficult things with people. I approach it sideways, after I’ve got to know them, and pause to get their views/opinions. I also talk politics with bigoted, right wing people, to understand their opinions and WHY they hold them. I then share my own opinion and life experiences – again, WHY I hold them. I’ve never been shouted down, interestingly. Perhaps because I’m a middle aged woman? Who knows? At least there’s been no argument. Shouting and condemning doesn’t get us anywhere.

    So, there is a chance for peace, and for dialogue. We just have to be brave enough to try. Sometimes we’ll get it wrong, but I’d rather be shouted at than never have the conversation. Bullies need to see that there are people who aren’t misled by their versions of the Apocalypse (which is often what their fears come down to.)


  8. Kate, your post comes the morning following my total disgust (again!) with the behaviour of our elected “leaders” whose method of “discussion” is to shout down the other with catcalls and derision. They act like unruly second graders whose teacher is out of the room. People are disgusted with them, but they seem to keep getting elected – why? And what sort of example is presented to our youth by them.

    Well, this is my way of saying I feel with you. Some of my thoughts on this:
    – don’t get discouraged. join with others who feel the same way and continue to work to establish mature sharing and dialog around important ideas.
    – people close up for different reasons; fear, influence of nutjobs with loud voices, ignorance, … This kind of person now has a platform on the internet and is very loud and deaf. Any attempt to communicate with them is only to provide an alternative for the benefit of others who might be questioning, etc.
    – dialog is to help me understand others, not change them.
    – ask more questions instead of presenting “my ideas”
    – remember all the positive, wonderful people who are reasonably sane and work together with them to make the world a better place.

    Just some thoughts as I wonder about my own part of the world. Off I go to look up the red boot coalition Peg shared.

    “Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs”


  9. You’ve hit a nerve here, Kate. At least in the U.S., we’re all affected by the lack of civility in the public sphere. It’s hard for me, but in the wake of my breast cancer, I’ve taken a year off from politics in general. But my feminism is a part of who I am, and I can’t stop being me.


  10. Ladies, I’m wondering out loud here whether a lot of this is to do with the fact that only 1% of us are now heard at the most important level, where Change happens? In developed cultures, more and more, nothing but money matters – we are all mere cogs to achieving greater profit, and to hell with community, respect and the environment. I see great disillusion and disempowerment of ordinary people, so most are either angry, or very angry. We take to the internet in our billions to rant and vent our spleen, and the politicians, business leaders and even (sigh) religious leaders, feed off this incredibly negative energy like vultures, looking for titbits which they can use in soundbites.

    Come election time, politicians shout at and badmouth each other, like bully boys and our media headlines get even more aggressive. And even religious leaders are reluctant to downsize their big houses and comfortable living to help the homeless, or vulnerably housed – contrary to the teachings of their prophets.

    Arms are traded so widely, and cheaply, that killing is now mainstream. No one’s safe, not even young schoolchildren, and we are held ransom by barbarians of all religions and none, because Cruelty and Fear is their only ideology.

    The spiral of negativity is destroying us. it is inevitable that we women are deeply affected and distressed by it, as we hold the emotions of humanity and our planet within us (not just our families). There are, of course, compassionate men alongside us, but many are very ashamed by what other men do, and seem powerless to help. I still think the ONLY response is to be peacemakers and peacekeepers though. A long, lonely and often dark path, but replying with vitriol and anger only fuels the flames from which only immoral and evil people benefit.

    The angry and disillusioned need to see a better side to humanity, and I think everyone here is IT. Please don’t give up fighting for a better, more sane world. <3


  11. Kate, Thank you for caring. Your observations seem accurate to me. I am reminded of William Stafford,
    poet from Oregon, who was a lifelong committed hard working pacifist. “Here is how to count the people ready to do right. One, One, One……” For me, focusing on solving problems is the key. Then, the more
    perspectives and viewpoints the better. But it is important to stay clear that you are solving a problem or issue that everyone in the community agrees needs to change. Keep asking questions. They are your power and keep you and the dialogue open. Answers, I am suspicious of. Fundamentalists have lots of answers but they don’t value questions. Please keep valuing your questions and keep asking them over and over. Nourish those who value openness- us here and there are many others. Do not give in the hopelessness and helplessness. That pays the rent of the powers that be. We open ones are much stronger so stay tuned in to us and we will grow. Thanks again for caring and let us know what specifically will help you feel nurtured and ready to keep listening.
    Best wishes and love to you.


  12. Statistically, the world is a much less poor and a much less violent place than ever before in recorded history. Why does it seem so much the opposite? Modern media, instant replay all over the world. I teach high school at a Title One school in the USA. This means that most students receive free or reduced cost breakfast and lunch. Nevertheless, they are very pro-gun, anti-Affordable Care Act–many are on Medicaid which is basically the same thing, anti the very government that gives them this and Food Stamps, etc. Many are racist and sport the Confederate flag or at least did last year. School starts a week from Monday. I have taught there many years. My daughter is half Nigerian, I am not Christian and they know this. It is predominantly white and poor. Their idea of a great weekend is getting drunk on beer and tearing up a nearby river. My goal is to lead by example, stop racist and sexist dialogue and explain why, and fight these battles one itty bitty step at a time. Kate, there are times when “fighting” remains pointless and counter productive. I try to choose my battles when not at school. As a teacher, I do have some control over what we read and write about–I teach seniors. This allows me to choose literature and assignments that hopefully expand their minds and make them question.


  13. I find your post to be very interesting. I found myself this past week responding to a prompt sort of related to this topic of dialogue and peoples opinions. The prompt I had to respond to asked about how college campuses/ universities should handle hate speech and ect.. In the prompt they spoke about some colleges wanting to impose a code to prevent hate speech and violence. I also found it interesting for the article it was based on saying that most people were more worried about peoples first amendment right, the right of freedom of speech rather than the safety of others. For the prompt they also asked us for our opinion and what we thought should be done. I had proposed that the code or rule be placed on the campus as a whole, but not be imposed in classes. I felt that campuses should have the rule to protect the people in the public areas where it is “easier” to get verbally or physically attacked, but not in class rooms. I don’t believe the rule should be in class rooms because unlike in public the class room could have someone (the professor) could over see what is said and be able to step in if things got out of hand. As a college student I also do find it is difficult to have real conversations with people about all types of topics. With the safety of classroom, or discussion groups we can teach a great life lesson to many, that there are many different types of people in this world and they al have different opinions and when we disagree with their opinions we must learn to accept, and respect their opinions and be able to rationally converse with them without getting too heated or aggressive towards one another.


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