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1. What is ethics?
2. Two part Reflection:
a. How do you engage in conflicting moralities in your life? Suspend all the readings & share from your personal life experience how you have navigated differences in morality within your everyday life. Share a story of difference &; reflect on your choice point(s).
b. Now, read McNamee, 2008: Transformative Dialogue: Coordinating Conflicting Moralities. Based on your reading of McNamee, reflect on your practice of engaging conflicting moralities. How is your approach similar or different to what is described by McNamee? For instance, are you seeking consensus or coordination. Or are fighting on the matter of principles? How do you make sense of your way of going about conflict based on your story?
3. Any challenges in understanding the readings? (non-evaluative, a check-in
The Lindberg Lecture 2008
Coordinating Confl icting
2007 Recipient of the Lindberg Award for
Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship in the
College of Liberal Arts at the
University of New Hamsphire
Coordinating Confl icting
Th e annual Gary Lindberg Award was established by the College
of Liberal Arts in 1986 in memory of Professor Gary Lindberg of the
Department of English. Professor Lindberg was an exceptional scholar
and outstanding teacher whose dedication and service to the University
of New Hampshire as well as the wider community exemplifi ed the
highest academic standards and ideals.
In memory of Professsor Lindberg and as a means of publicly sup-
porting superior faculty accomplishment, the College of Liberal Arts
annually recognizes one truly outstanding scholar and teacher within
the College. Th e award carries a $5,000 stipend. Th e recipient is in-
vited to present the Liberal Arts Lecture to the public during the fol-
lowing academic year.
I would like to invite you, the reader, to refl ect on some issues that I
believe are crucial for us to consider. We live in a world of diff erences
and confl ict. We are globally connected in ways that have not been
previously possible, highlighting diff erences and confl icts of signifi cant
proportion. Daily people die due to our collective inability to navigate
our diff erences. Many of us feel the desire to do things diff erently – to
understand, to connect – yet, we are frozen by uncertainty. I would
like to off er some rudimentary ideas about what we might do to con-
front this state of aff airs. Th e central requirement for us is to move
beyond either/or thinking and enter a space where we consider the very
processes we engage in constructing the social order. Dialogue, a very
specifi c form of communication, off ers us a way to step into and em-
brace the diversity of moral stances that we confront in today’s world.
Richard Rorty says, “Intractable moral confl icts are not easily re-
solved and, in many cases, may not be resolvable. Indeed, many such
confl icts should not be resolved, but they can be argued in more hu-
mane, enlightening, and respectful ways, at least ‘continuing the con-
versation’” (p. 394). Let me off er a colorful illustration of Rorty’s idea
of more humane, enlightening, and respectful ways of engaging our dif-
ferences as narrated by Sally Miller Gearhart, a self-proclaimed activist:
Five years ago when I’d see a logging truck loaded with
redwoods or old oak, I’d shoot the driver the fi nger.
He’d (could it ever be a she?) shoot one right back at
me and then go home and put a bumper sticker on
his truck that would read, “Hey, Environmental-
ist, try wiping your ass with a spotted owl!” Th ree
years ago, I was a shade more gentle (sic). I would
stop dead in my tracks, glare at the driver . . . and
make sure he read my lips: “Fuck you, mister.” Th en
Coordinating Confl icting
he’d go home and add another bumper sticker to his
truck: “Earth First! We’ll log the other planets later.”
Th ese days . . . I’m practicing acknowledging loggers
as “fellow travelers on Planet Earth,” as Trudy the bag
lady would say, doing what they do just as I do what I do;
I’m laying off any attempt to change or even judge them,
and I’m trusting that acknowledgment of our kinship can
make a positive diff erence in the texture of all our lives.
When I meet an erstwhile “enemy,” instead of
moving immediately into horse posture or splitting the
scene entirely . . . I look for the joining point, the place
where we are the same, where we can meet each other
as beings who share the experience of living together
on this planet. I introduce that into the conversation,
and we talk about the thing that belongs to both of
us . . . When I can’t fi nd any common ground upon
which to stand with some “enemy,” like a logger, then
I ask him to take me into his world for a day or two
so I can hear him and his buddies talk about what it
means to be out of work . . . with a family to feed.
When all’s said and done . . . I like “joining” better
than fi ghting or running away . . . I’ve learned a lot. I’ve
learned that it is never individual men/people who are
my “enemy” but complex systems of exploitation that
have emerged from centuries of alienation and per-
petuation of violence; it is these systems and that con-
sciousness – not the people – that I can, with integrity,
hope to change. I’ve learned that my pain, anger and /
or hatred accomplish nothing except to render me in-
eff ectual and to increase the problem by adding to the
pain, anger, and hatred that already burden the world.
I’ve learned that whole parts of my identifi ed “enemy”
are really my own self, walking around in diff erent cos-
tume. And in the moments where we’ve found some
joining space, I’ve learned that, though I still may not
choose to spend time with him, I do feel a kinship or
love for that killer, that exploiter . . . If I can still hold
strong to my standard of what is just and decent and ap-
propriate behavior for human beings and yet go about
my life with a new awareness, with joy in the process
instead of my former debilitating pain, and if I can do
all this without creating and maintaining “enemies,”
then I have to try it. (Miller Gearhart, 1995, pp. 8-11)
My work is centered on precisely the transition Gearhart describes
in her approach toward “the enemy.” It is an approach that can be com-
monly misunderstood. To some, Gearhart’s approach might be sum-
marized as confl ict avoidant. Others might describe her way of acting
as idealistic and thus, no solution to the moral confl ict at hand. To me,
Gearhart’s story illustrates neither confl ict avoidance nor idealism. I see
it as one illustration of how we might coordinate confl icting moralities.
Th ere are two issues I would like to address here that resonate with
Rorty’s idea and Gearhart’s example of “continuing the conversation.”
Th ese two issues are framed as questions: What is dialogue? and How can
dialogue be useful in moving beyond moral confl ict? In order to explore these
questions, it is important to fi rst consider the topic of moral confl ict.
Daily, we confront confl icting moralities ranging from the diverse
values of Western modernity and traditional cultures to local campus
or community politics, not to mention the clashing moralities we en-
counter in some of our most intimate relationships. Let us refer to
these moral stances as moral orders – that is, ways of being in the
world that are taken for granted as necessary for maintaining “good-
ness.” Moral orders emerge out of the unwritten social conventions
which serve to maintain social order. We operate within moral orders
every time we utter to ourselves or others the “oughtness” or “should-
ness” of a given action or set of actions. To that end, we need not
leave the issue of morality in the hands of ethicists and philosophers.
Rather, the exploration of diverse moralities should be a common
focus for us all since every morality is constructed in our day-to-day
interactions with one another. Pearce and Littlejohn (1997) claim,
“Reality is social, and the moral order within which it is construct-
ed is a product of historical process in which stories are told and re-
told and a moral tradition is established” (p. 52). Th e following dia-
gram off ers one way of depicting the construction of moral orders: 1
1 I want to emphasize that any representation is limited. In this visual, I am em-
phasizing the point of coordination as the locus of constructed moral orders. I am not
intending to represent a closed system, nor am I attempting to portray an individual’s
cognitive process. Th is illustration is about coordinated, situated activities of people in
relation; it is not a depiction of one individual’s activities or mental process.
With our stories, and in our interactions with others, we craft
our worlds. Th e moral orders within which we live are emergent
products of the fl ux and fl ow of daily engagement. Th e possibil-
ity that one or another might respond diff erently to our actions is
always ready to hand. To this end, the moral character of everyday
life rests on the contingent quality of communication and there-
fore, communication becomes our necessary focus of attention.
I often think about the off -handed ways that we justify our ac-
tions: “It’s written in the rule book,” or “Th is is the way we’ve al-
ways done it,” or even more popular, “Th ese are the procedures and
I can not make exceptions.” But from where do these rule books,
ritualized patterns, and procedures materialize? Each represents its
own moral order – the taken for granted expectations we have for
“how things should be.” And each is no more permanent or solid
than the patterns of communication that create them. Moral orders
arise out of our interaction with others. Th ey are made not found.
Briefl y, let me provide an image of the sort of focus to which I would
like to draw our attention. When you confront diff erence, do you think
long and hard about how to craft your argument, what persuasive tactics
to employ, and privately rehearse the anticipated conversation? Many
people do. And, I would like to suggest that this is precisely the focus
that traps us in unending confl ict. Th ere is no possibility to successfully
persuade the other because when we compare what is coherent for each
confl icting party, we are comparing apples and oranges. Your good rea-
sons and compelling evidence are discounted as irrational by my stan-
dards and vice versa. We are trapped in a debate of “my good” over yours.
What if, instead of – or at least in addition to – careful craft-
ing of our argument, we entertain, as Gearhart does, how we
would like to “meet” the other and what sort of conversation we
would like to have? What if our vision of winning was reframed as
an opportunity to be in extended conversation with the other in
which new understanding – not agreement, validation, or con-
sensus – could be constructed? Th is is the diff erence of dialogue.
As I shall argue, understanding the distinct practice of dia-
logue – as a particular form of communication – can assist us
in coordinating confl icting moralities. My own interest is not
with determining universal or dogmatic rights or wrongs. Rath-
er my focus is on creating opportunities where confl icting fac-
tions can fi nd a way to bridge their incommensurate moralities.
Undoubtedly, moving beyond our own passionate positions is a
seemingly impossible task. It requires a dramatic yet simple refocus-
ing of attention away from the carefully planned sequence of actions
that we imagine might secure a fi rm place for our own moral order. I
believe that our focus is better placed on what people do together and
what their “doing” makes. Put diff erently, I am proposing that we shift
from a focus on the “rightness” of any person’s or group’s actions –
temporarily – to consider what conditions might generate more humane
ways of confronting diff erence. It is in our coordinated activities with
others that we make meaning. And, it is these coordinations with oth-
ers that place our focus on the social, relational aspects of what we
come to assume is or is not moral. Let’s examine, for example, the
various moral positions constructed around the issue of same-sex mar-
riage. No one is born with a position for or against this issue. Rather,
the positions we all adopt are worked out in the give and take of our
conversations with others – family, friends, acquaintances, and media.
Th e position we take on this issue emerges from those relational coor-
dinations that are most central to us. And, while discussing this topic
with others who share the same opinion, we experience a particular
form of coordinated action that confi rms and substantiates our view.
Th ink for a minute now of this process of coordination occurring
every time we interact with another. Th e smallest and most insignifi –
cant of moments becomes a moment of confi rming or reconstructing
meaning. Furthermore, every time we interact with another, we are
constructing meanings that have implications not only for the pres-
ent relationship and/or the present moment, but also for other re-
lationships in which we are engaged. Additionally, our moment-to-
moment engagements with others have important implications for
the expectations we impose upon ourselves and others and, by exten-
sion, there are implications for what we come to see as moral. In other
words, in every encounter we are crafting moral orders with others.
Refl ect for a moment on the various issues about which you are pas-
sionate. Th ink about some of your strongest beliefs. Perhaps your inten-
sity is focused on issues of social justice, racial equality, abortion, polyg-
amy, war, euthanasia, substance abuse, pornography. Over what issue
or issues would others claim you lose your “objectivity?” What are the
topics you have a diffi cult time discussing in a civil manner? Now think
about the conversations, the coordinations, and the relational histories
where you feel supported and virtuous for your stance on these heated
issues. Th ese are the very moments within which you create, confi rm,
and solidify your moral stance. And, as I mentioned earlier, this process
is occurring every time we engage with others. It is a moment full of
potential in that new “positions” or meaning can emerge at any mo-
ment because of the contingent quality of our situated activities with
others; it could also be a moment further amplifying a dogmatic stance.
We are no longer talking about universal good or bad but good
and bad that are worked out at a very local level. Goff man (1959) says,
“participants contribute to a single overall defi nition of the situation
which involves not so much a real agreement as to what exists but
rather a real agreement as to whose claims concerning what issues will
be temporarily honored” (p. 9-10). And so it is with our coordinations
with others. Th ey can be generalized into patterns and rituals that we
come to expect. It is in this process that our “moral orders” are born.
Now let us consider the fully functioning, well coordinated moral
orders of same-sex marriage advocates as well as the moral order of those
who opposes it. Th e moral stances are completely coherent within their
communities (i.e., they are relationally crafted). Yet, between them,
there is no point of contact, no way to bridge their incommensurate
beliefs. Th e clash of their moral orders could be portrayed as follows:
Advocate of Same-Sex Marriage Opponent to Same-Sex Marriage
Of note here is fi rst the clarity of oppositional moralities. Second, is
the clarity that social processes have produced these very specifi c moral
orders. And fi nally, there is the clarity of division between the two moral
orders. In other words, they are both internally coherent; they are both
rooted in patterns of social coordination; and they are incommensu-
rate. Why should we expect either group in this confl ict to think they
are morally wrong? How do we choose which morality to employ as the
evaluative standard? Even as a potential third party to this moral con-
fl ict, would it be possible for any of us to stand outside one of these two
moral orders? Are not all of us already embedded within one or the other?
Is persuasion our only recourse in the face of competing moralities?
Persuasion, in these moments, is an easy defense. I can argue you are
wrong and evil and I can tell you why (i.e., you don’t share my values). You
can do the same. Like Gearhart and her enemy loggers, we have accom-
plished nothing but the further construction of pain and anger without
locating a way of “going on together” (Wittgenstein, 1953). More chal-
lenging and more humane is fi nding a way to bridge these diff erences.
Th e challenge we face is to take this understanding of how com-
munication processes construct moral orders and use this same at-
tention to process, not content and not individual moral character,
so we might bridge these moralities thereby providing some way to
continue the conversation. Clearly, if moral orders are crafted out
of ordinary coordinations among people, the diversity, and thus in-
commensurability, of these orders is inevitable. How could we ever
imagine a single, unquestioned moral order? Dialogue, as a very
special form of communication, places our attention on coordinat-
ing multiple moral orders. I would like to suggest that dialogue is a
way to move beyond the oppression of one moral order over another.
Let me turn my attention to dialogue; what is it and what is it not.
The Difference of Dialogue
Bakhtin (1984) says, “Truth is not . . . to be found inside the head of
an individual person, it is born between people . . . in the process of
their dialogic interaction” (p.110). I draw on Bakhtin’s understand-
ing of dialogue. He claims that dialogue is a responsive, multi-voiced
activity, and as such is not limited to self-interest, psychological or
relational improvement, or to crafting cooperative, confl ict-free ways
of living. When we are responsive to others, our words and actions
are not entirely our own, they carry traces of our histories of rela-
tionships and the beliefs and values these relationships have crafted.
Because dialogue is a responsive, situated activity, it diff ers from
our persuasive tradition. In dialogue, we are steeped in uncertainty,
incompleteness, and multiplicity. Th is may appear to be a very un-
comfortable space to occupy. After all, we place high value on just
the opposite: certainty, completeness, singularity. Privileging uncer-
tainty, incompleteness, and multiplicity highlights how very diff er-
ent dialogue is from our common understandings of communication.
Dialogue is not about successfully transmitting our meaning, knowl-
edge, or information to another. It is not about persuasion or self-
promotion. On the contrary, dialogue is a process of holding fi rmly to
one’s position while maintaining a curiosity and respect for another’s
very diff erent position. Th is is what Bakhtin refers to as responsivity.
Is it possible to dissolve the dichotomy of incommensurate world
views by creating opportunities for the sort of responsiveness that dia-
logue off ers? And, in dissolving the good/bad, right/wrong dichoto-
mies, can we achieve some form of coordinated social action where
diversity is tolerated and even respected? Can we imagine – and
more important, can we create – a social order that is not or-
dered by similarity but is ordered by coordination of diversity?
Since our expectations about good and bad, right and wrong
emerge from our very basic and simple interactions with each other,
and, since most of us interact with a wide array of others, the possibil-
ity of shifting moralities as well as the possibility of simultaneously
holding incompatible moralities (depending upon which community
one is engaged with at the moment) is omnipresent. Dialogue implies
that we begin by presuming the other’s rationality. In other words, the
challenge is to fi nd a way to approach the other (the immoral other) as
an other who is coherent and rational within his or her own commu-
nity of signifi cance – despite his or her diversity. Th is stance moves our
focus away from assessment of who is right and who is wrong or who
is a good person and who is not. It places our focus on understanding
very diff erent moral orders on their own terms and temporarily suspend-
ing evaluation. Such a stance invites transformative dialogue where our
focus is on making space for multiple rationalities as opposed to per-
suasive rhetoric where securing the rightness of our own morality is
our main concern. Of course, I am not suggesting that we completely
abandon attempts to resolve incommensurate moral orders, nor am I
suggesting we adopt an “anything goes” stance. I am simply suggesting
that we begin the process of confronting the other dialogically. From
this diff erent origin, new possibilities for coordination can emerge.
So, our challenge is to create opportunities for dialogue.
Creating Conditions for Dialogue
Our fi rst task is to explore ways of creating a context (physical, rela-
tional, and personal) that invites a diff erent form of conversation. Th is
does not mean that participants must self disclose in deeply personal
and self-interested ways. Nor does it mean that diff erence of opinion,
confl ict or discord of any kind must be suppressed. Th is also does not
imply that diff erential power positions are ignored nor that profes-
sional expertise is put aside. Rather, to be in dialogue is to engage in
the tensionality produced when one holds one’s own position while
simultaneously remaining open to the (often very oppositional, con-
tradictory) position(s) of the other(s) (Stewart and Zediker, 2002).
Th is understanding of dialogue is signifi cantly diff erent from the
“happy talk, no confl ict” interpretation so many hold. Th e risk of hold-
ing one’s own position while allowing others – often with diametrically
opposing views – to do the same, and to be open and curious about the
coherence of those very diff erent positions, creates a very unique relational
context. It is a context, I believe, that is more democratic and concerned
with broader issues of human and social wellbeing. It is, in other words,
a useful process for public deliberation, policy formation, and social
equity – not to mention daily confl ict resolution. While dialogue may
not place primacy on immediate resolution, it is a process that facilitates
eventual decision and action in a humane and collaborative manner.
In closing, I would like to off er some resources for action that can
assist us in creating the very diff erent conversational space of dialogue;
a space that opens possibility for new understandings while simulta-
neously not terminating with easy answers about what is moral and
what is not. In other words, these resources for action remind us that
diversity of moral orders is part of the human condition and engag-
ing diversity with respect and curiosity helps us appreciate the power
we each have to construct liveable futures together. In what follows,
I suggest a set of conditions that I believe direct our attention to the
process of constructing bridges among competing moral orders. Th is
is not to suggest that all moral orders are acceptable, viable, or in any
way condonable. It is simply to refocus our attention on how a moral
order emerges and in focusing on this process, creating the opportunity
for a conversation where new understandings – that is, new mean-
ing and action – can be generated. Let me suggest, as you read the
following resources for transformative dialogue, that you continue to
refl ect on the moral issues about which you are passionate and fre-
quently fi nd yourself challenged to consider alternative perspectives.
Resources for Transformative Dialogue
First, I propose that we avoid speaking from abstract positions when
encountering the “other.” While I can disagree with your opinion, your
beliefs, your values, I can not tell you that the story you tell about
your life is wrong. When we confront animosity and diff erence, we
most often resort to defending our position “on principle.” Th ese prin-
ciples, however, are abstract. Th e warring principles of “right” and
“wrong” beg the question: whose standards are we using? And since we
understand that values, beliefs and realities are built from coordination
within relationships, we can now anticipate some very diff erent and
often incommensurate values and beliefs will be housed within any
one group or relationship. Inviting a person to tell a story about who
in her life infl uenced her to honor and value certain beliefs does not
make the confl ict go away, but it does signifi cantly transform the na-
ture of the interaction and, by extension, the nature of the relationship.
I might disagree with the ultimate belief you are supporting but I now
understand how it is that you have come to support this belief. I no
longer see you as crazy or evil or out to get me. I see you as having a dif-
ferent story, a diff erent rationale, a diff erent history. I am much better
equipped to continue our conversation with this form of understanding.
Second, I encourage self refl exive and relationally refl exive inqui-
ry. Here the attempt is to entertain doubt about our own certainties.
We can invoke our inner voice of skepticism about our own strongly
held beliefs. Can I be so certain that there is absolutely no other way
to look at this situation? We can also invoke the doubtful voice of a
friend, colleague, or mentor. How would my mother, my colleague, my
friend think about this? Th is self refl exive inquiry opens us to the pos-
sibility of alternative constructions thereby transforming the nature
of the interaction. Similarly, to pause and inquire about how “our”
interaction is going recognizes that the meaning that is emerging in
a particular interactive moment is a byproduct of “us,” not of “you”
or “me.” Th us, to ask, Is this the kind of conversation you were hoping
we would have? Is there another way we could or should be doing this?
Are there questions I should be asking you but I’m not? acknowledges
that we only have “power with” or “power to” and not “power over.”
Th ird, we might focus on the coordination of multiplicities. When
we confront the challenges of diff erence, our tendency is to fi nd any
means to move toward consensus. Yet, consensus has its problems.
Frequently, consensus is reached by confl icting parties removing from
consideration the issues about which they are most passionate (and by
association, the issues upon which the confl ict is centered). Th e “com-
mon ground” or consensus that emerges from the process of negotia-
tion most often focuses on smaller, less signifi cant issues and thus, issues
with which participants have little investment. To this end, consensus
works to accelerate distrust and confl ict rather than dissolve either.
Rather than approach confl icting moralities as opportuni-
ties to develop consensus, in transformative dialogue we at-
tempt to coordinate multiple discourses. Th e challenge is to be-
come curious about all forms of practice and to explore the values
and beliefs that give rise to them without searching for universal
agreement. Can we create dialogic opportunities that invite gen-
erous listening, curious inquiry, and a willingness for co-presence?
A fourth resource we might explore is the use of our familiar forms
of action in unfamiliar contexts. Often when we are stuck in confl icts
that seem impossible to transform, we search for new tools or strategies
that will create the desired change. In fact, one of the reasons consul-
tants and mediators are in such high demand is because culturally we
believe that experts can teach us successful strategies for change. Yet, I
would like to suggest that learning new strategies for coordinating con-
fl ict might not be necessary. Gregory Bateson talks about “the diff erence
that makes a diff erence” (1972, p. 272) and Tom Andersen sees this dif-
ference as introducing “something unusual but not too un-usual” (An-
dersen, 1991, p. 33). Here, I am suggesting a variation on this theme.
We all carry with us many voices, many diff ering opinions, views
and attitudes – even on the same subject. Th ese voices represent the
accumulation of our relationships (actual, imagined, and virtual).
In eff ect, we carry the residues of many others with us; we contain
multitudes (McNamee and Gergen, 1999). Yet, most of our actions,
along with the positions we adopt in conversations, are one dimen-
sional. Th ey represent only a small segment of all that we might do
and say. Th e challenge is to draw on these other voices, these conver-
sational resources that are familiar in one set of relationships and situ-
ations but not in another. In so doing, we achieve something unusual.
Using familiar resources in contexts where we do not generally
use them invites us into new forms of engagement with others. If we
think of all our activities as invitations into diff erent relational con-
structions, then we can focus on how utilizing particular resources
invites certain responses in specifi c relationships and how it invites
diff erent responses and constructions in others. All represent various
attempts to achieve coordinated respect for the specifi city of a given
relationship and situation. If we can encourage ourselves (and oth-
ers) to draw broadly on the conversational resources that are already
familiar, perhaps we can act in ways that are just diff erent enough to
invite others into something beyond the same old unwanted pattern.
To the extent that we can invite the use of the familiar in unfamil-
iar contexts, we are coordinating disparate discourses. What we are
avoiding is co-opting one discourse as right and another as wrong.
Th e novelty of enacting the old in a new context becomes, I be-
lieve, fertile soil within which to craft generative transformation.
Finally, we might focus on the future. If you examine problem-
solving talk, you will note that a good portion of what we think we
“should” be doing, as we attempt to solve problems and negotiate com-
peting moralities, focuses on the past. We explore the history and evo-
lution of a moral confl ict. When did the confl ict begin? How long has
it been a diffi culty? How have participants come to understand (make
sense of ) the problem? What do they think is the cause of competing
moralities? What do others say about it? What have those involved
done to try to solve this problem? Th e questions we ask direct our
conversation to the past, as do the expectations of all participants (i.e.,
if we don’t talk about what caused the problem, we’ll never resolve it).
With such an emphasis on these past-oriented questions, there is lit-
tle room for imagining the future. Th e potential to sediment the past, to
reify the story, and thereby make it static and immutable is tremendous.
Probably more important is the logic inherent in the focus on the past.
By focusing on what has already transpired, we unwittingly give cred-
ibility to causal models that are the hallmark of modernist science. We
privilege the logic that claims that what went before causes what follows.
I do not necessarily want to argue for a disconnection between past,
present and future. I simply want to raise the issue of narration. Th e past
is always a story. And we all know that there are many ways to tell a story.
Not only do we harbor many voices, each with a diff erent set of possi-
ble narrations, but others involved in the same “history” will very likely
narrate it diff erently. Th us, the causality of past to present (and implied
future) will take diff erent turns, highlight diff erent features, and pathol-
ogize or celebrate varied aspects depending on which story is privileged.
One reason that future-oriented discourse can enhance the coordi-
nation of confl icting moralities is because we all understand that we do
not yet know the future. We have not embodied it yet. And thus, to the
extent that we engage with others (our enemies) in conversation about
the future, we underscore the relational construction of our worlds. We
fabricate together the reality into which we might collaboratively enter.
Th is is not to suggest that talk of the past is wrong or emblematic
of simplistic views of confl ict and communication. I am proposing a
collaborative, situated creation of possibilities and one way to achieve
this is with future-oriented discourse. In our talk of imagined futures,
we invite coordination of many convergent and divergent understand-
ings of the past and the present. Again, this form of relational engage-
ment moves toward coordinated respect for multiplicity and diff erence.
Th e challenge we face when confronted with confl icting moral orders is
the challenge to keep the conversation going. In keeping the conversa-
tion going, we connect with diverse others in ways that are, as Rorty
(1979) says, “more humane, enlightening, and respectful (Rorty, 1979,
p. 394). To me, the only hope for sustaining ourselves is to recognize
the power of dialogue – that is, the power of what we do together. In
our very ordinary activities with others we are creating moral orders
and these moral orders, if confronted from that stance of moral supe-
riority and Truth, generate oppression and violence. Dialogue off ers us
a way to coordinate these moralities and craft livable futures together.
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Pearce, W.B. and Littlejohn, S. (1997). Moral confl ict: When social
worlds collide. Th ousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
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Princeton University Press.
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