- Mati Zeff, Editor-in-Chief
Editor's Note: Uncompromised Dialogue and Radical Acceptance
As this issue of the Journal comes together, I’m reminded of a conversation with a friend earlier this summer in which he spoke about the value of uncompromised dialogue - a discourse of divergent perspectives in their original totality, without forcing them to change to encounter each other. As the summer has progressed, I’ve thought about this notion more and more in relation to the Journal and the events that have transpired in the dispersed Yale community.
Uncompromised dialogue is a rare phenomenon. It requires the thoughtful and complete presentation of one’s own views along with the acceptance and attempt to understand the views of others as they are, without attempting to change or sway them. Treating a divergent perspective in this way is no simple thing; it requires the humility and maturity to grant space and voice to that perspective despite your disagreements, and the radical empathy to try to understand that view on its own terms, not in relation to your own.
The easier and more prominent form of dialogue is what I will call the ‘negotiative’ model. In negotiative dialogue, two perspectives encounter each other, and, through mutual expression and understanding, grow to understand their similarities and shared principles, and begin to see the merit in some of the points of the other party. In its ideal form, negotiative dialogue is not competitive — one is not trying to extract more concessions from the other party than one grants. Instead, both perspectives approach each other through mutual understanding, and their growth towards each other signals success for the dialogue and both parties.
However, negotiative dialogue becomes difficult without a foundation of uncompromised, fundamental mutual respect and acceptance. Two individuals who enter a dialogue without truly acknowledging each other’s views as legitimate will find it difficult to be partners in successful dialogue. They may express agreement in certain areas and accept certain arguments of their counterpart, but the encounter will remain fundamentally adversarial, because there remain pieces of each view that the other is not prepared to accept as legitimate. Such partners in dialogue are not really looking for dialogue — they are looking for victory. As goals, these are as incompatible as they come.
Dialogue without a foundation of acceptance can take another problematic form: the litmus test discourse. When parties to a dialogue cannot respect the whole of the views of the other, they sometimes create dialogues in which certain pieces of a view must be left at the door in order to participate. Instead of perspectives shifting organically through conversation and understanding, these shifts are demanded as concessions in order for the dialogue to take place. This creates an imbalance that necessarily warps the dialogue that follows, since the views expressed are neither entirely organic nor entirely complete. Moreover, it begins the dialogue on an adversarial note that will tinge what follows. The party that has demanded the concession has sought and achieved a victory of sorts before the conversation has even begun. The tone that this sets is not one of mutual understanding, but of distrust, making it challenging for the dialogue to yield positive and productive results.
At Yale, over the past few months, we have experienced what happens when parties to conversation are not willing to grant legitimacy to each other. In group-chats, social media, email chains, and heated conversations, we have directly experienced the conflict that inevitably results from a discourse that is structured adversarially. When those who seek conversations are not willing to respect opposing views in their totality, those conversations become battlegrounds rather than, as they should be, sources of learning, healing, and growth.
In order for dialogue to be successful, it must be predicated on radical acceptance and respect for views we completely disagree with and the individuals who hold them. That is, for negotiative dialogue to be successful, it must be preceded by uncompromised dialogue, into which perspectives enter unchanged from their original form, to encounter other views in all their difference and disagreement. When those perspectives can acknowledge and respect each other in these uncompromised encounters, they can then engage in dialogue in which they challenge each other and evolve through mutual understanding. With the foundation of acceptance and respect, dialogue can be created that is constructive and collaborative rather than stagnant and adversarial.
This issue of the Journal is an effort of uncompromised dialogue. We have brought in a diverse group of student authors with widely divergent views to share their knowledge, their scholarship, and their perspectives. We have also launched the Rabin Fellowship on Israel and Palestine, an initiative intended to broaden the scope of student participation and authorship, and we welcome our first class of Rabin Fellows in this issue. Here, we celebrate the diversity of perspectives on Israel and Palestine, and we bring them together not in synthesis, but in coexistence. It is through this open-minded encounter with the other, not in place of it, that we must look to build dialogue.
Thank you to all of our writers for your contributions, to our editors for your time and care, and to everyone who made this issue possible.
Mati Zeff is a rising Senior in Branford College Majoring in Philosophy with a certificate in Advanced Russian Language Study. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Perspectives: The Yale Journal on Israel and Palestine and Co-President of Yale Friends of Israel. In his free time, you can find him fencing and frantically rereading mid-twentieth-century analytic philosophy papers.