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 Writer's Desk 

December 6, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 31



Tara Harris Dialogue liberates creativity

By Sr. Rita Larivee, NCR publisher

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"NCR's orientation is toward reporting the news, toward enterprise and relevance, toward dialogue with practically everybody. We are a religious paper with worldly interests. We are committed to the Church, and secure enough in our commitment to keep wondering what the Church is and will become."

This statement was written in 1964 as part of the original declaration of purpose for the establishment of the National Catholic Reporter newsweekly. Though more than forty years have passed since its inception, the NCR organization continues to draw upon this seminal thought for direction and purpose. In particular, the word "dialogue" has caught our imagination. Although often interchanged with words like "conversation," "discussion," and "debate," the core of dialogue is the exchange of ideas and beliefs within the community. The fullness of what this implies is challenging and enlightening.

Physicist and philosopher David Bohm (1917-1992) suggests that the process of dialogue is a process of awakening, and its purpose is to reveal the incoherence in our thought in order to discover or re-establish a genuine and creative collective consciousness.

At NCR, clarity of intent is critical for carrying out our work. As journalists, our main activity is the reporting of events, stating who, what, when, where, why and how, and explaining the significance and effect of events and trends. But to stop there is to minimize the efforts of our labor. Reporting and analyzing are necessary but insufficient tools for "wondering what the Church is and will become." For this we need dialogue.

Dialogue cannot remain simple words on a page. It lies at the core of our existence and offers us a means for stepping back to consciously reflect on deeply held beliefs. Who are we? Why do we exist? What is our relationship to other people, life and the universe?

In response, NCR offers its readers a spectrum of editorials and opinion columnists who reflect on and challenge public controversies, trends and other areas of thought that require a broad range of voices to expose misunderstandings and ungrounded assumptions. In so doing, we ask our readers to suspend momentarily pre-conceived notions and judgments and to allow the imagination to entertain wider possibilities. Our hope is to build common understanding that will allow for creative response to the critical issues of the day. We do not ask our readers to put aside their beliefs; rather, we ask that they be willing to hold them up for conscious examination and exploration. An unexamined worldview cannot sustain the surprises of a divine creation.

Yet, dialogue is -- by definition -- not a solitary activity for isolated thinkers. It is a social phenomenon of shared exploration through collective questioning that can help bring about change in human consciousness. At NCR, we seek out perspectives and letters from our readers and encourage an exchange that has shaped the NCR "Letters to the Editor" section since its foundational years.

Listening is an essential characteristic of dialogue, not just for understanding, but for deep reflection and mindfulness of the other's view. It is an undivided attention that brings to life the voice of the heart. This is the challenge NCR sets for itself in choosing to be in dialogue with just about everybody. A daunting task, but indispensable in a world and church that is so full of suffering, abuse of power and failure to care for the most vulnerable. Our job is to listen for the larger meaning that emerges from the open and honest sharing within the community we serve.

We share our listening by telling the stories of Catholic men and women living in relationship to everything in and around them. Through our feature narratives, we take a moment to focus more slowly and more deeply on individual lives so as to better comprehend the many facets of meaning that move us at the deepest levels of our soul. It is by entering the world of the other that we will better equip ourselves for finding solutions to the many crises facing humanity today.

NCR's commitment to dialogue is a commitment to collective inquiry and collective thinking. None of us has the whole truth and we appreciate the rich diversity of perceptions that make up the landscape of knowledge and, if nothing else, dialogue is an effective means for countering negativity, prejudice and fanaticism. Dialogue cannot exist between those who have been denied the right to speak and those who deny the right.

We are journalists, but we are also members of a community we feel passionately about upholding. We report, but we also invite others into the stories we tell. We believe deeply that dialogue creates a culture of cooperation and shared ownership for addressing the problems we face. It moves us from a church and a world of hierarchical structures, competition and exclusion to increased collaboration, partnership and inclusion.

We dialogue, Bohm would tell us, so that creativity can be liberated.

Rita Larivee, a Sister of St. Anne, is NCR publisher. She can be reached at rlarivee@ncronline.org.

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