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Cassandra Voss Center Dialogue Statement

The Cassandra Voss Center seeks to promote and facilitate critical conversations and create spaces in which genuine dialogue can thrive. Participation in open and authentic dialogue results in transformed thinking and relationships, contributing to a more just world. 

We believe that genuine dialogue is necessary to combat the divisive rhetoric, dogmatic certitude and hateful name-calling that too often marks our political, religious and educational environments. We believe that authentic dialogue creates possibilities for trusting relationships, collaborations and creative problem-solving, thus building up the common good. 

We believe that efforts to promote and practice authentic dialogue are in line with the mission of St. Norbert College as a Norbertine, Catholic and liberal arts institution. St. Norbert himself brought warring parties together and fostered reconciliation in contentious times. We follow his example when we utilize dialogue to bring people together across seemingly intractable divides. The U.S. Catholic Bishops call us to civil dialogue, encouraging people “to look at how we engage in discourse and how we live out our commitment to be a people of profound respect for the truth and our right to express our thoughts, opinions, positions – always in love.”1 Further, Pope Francis writes: “In the world, in societies, there is little peace because dialogue is lacking. It is hard to come out of the narrow horizon of one’s interests to open to a true and sincere encounter...Dialogue is the way of peace because dialogue fosters understanding, harmony, concord, peace. Because of this, it is vital that it grow, that it spread among people of every condition and conviction...”2 At the Cassandra Voss Center, we commit ourselves to helping dialogue grow and spread at St. Norbert College and beyond.

Virtues for Dialogue
Certain virtues are both necessary for and deepened by authentic dialogue. When we practice these virtues, we make ourselves more fully human and simultaneously create a better community: we build communio. Some key virtues for genuine dialogue are:

Love: Love most fundamentally requires that we see every other as a person with inviolable dignity, who has a right to be and think differently than we do. In theological terms, we must see the other – no matter how different than ourselves – as a person created in the image of God, beloved by God and thus deserving of respect. Love requires that we never see the other merely as an enemy or an abstract opponent-to-be-defeated-in-debate; rather, we should engage the other as a dignified and complex person with a story to tell.

Humility: Humility requires that we recognize our own limitations, biases and lack of complete knowledge of the truth. A humble person is a teachable person who exhibits certain attitudes, such as an openness toward and a desire to learn from those who are “different.” Humility is an active virtue by which we seek to expand our knowledge through conversation with others and the evaluation of evidence, moving toward a fuller understanding of truth. 

Attentive Listening: Attentive listening is not passive hearing. Rather, it requires a genuine desire to understand the perspective and motivations of the “other” through their verbal and non-verbal communication. Pope Francis describes the art of listening, which “is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.”3 Deep listening is a prerequisite to authentic encounter. This kind of listening takes practice since often, even when we are quiet when another is speaking, we are thinking of our reply or rebuttal rather than listening to learn and understand. 

Courage: Courage helps us bring our authentic selves – with our stories and convictions – to the conversation and makes us willing to engage with people who may be very different than ourselves. Courage enables us to express our vulnerability, to honestly convey our experience and viewpoint and sometimes to change our convictions in light of what we learn. Authentic dialogue requires courage because it can be uncomfortable to be in conversation with diverse persons and groups. In particular, conversations about race, gender, identity and religion can be challenging and feel risky. Listening to the voices of others – especially people who are vulnerable and on the margins – can de-center us, shaking us out of blind certainty and comfortable privilege. Since dialogue engages both the head and the heart, we need courage. 

Dialogue in Practice
The Cassandra Voss Center’s Olive Branch Initiative, launched in 2017, is an ongoing effort aimed at bringing people with various perspectives together to share stories and engage in authentic critical dialogue. The Initiative is inspired by the sustained, charitable dialogue Kurt and Cassandra Voss practiced from their distinct vantage points and diverging convictions. 

The Cassandra Voss Center encourages innovative thinking about how authentic dialogue can enhance intellectual, spiritual and personal development in a variety of curricular and co-curricular environments, on and off-campus. 



Resources:
Additional Reading:
  • Jaycox, Michael P. “The Civic Virtues of Social Anger: A Critically Reconstructed Normative Ethic for Public Life,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 36, 1 (2016): 123-143. 

Footnotes:
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, “Civil Discourse: Speaking Truth in Love,” Archdiocese of Washington, 2011.
Pope Francis, International Meeting for Peace, organized by Sant’Egidio Community, from September 29-October 1, on the topic: “The Courage of Hope: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.”
Pope Francis, (EG) Joy of the Gospel, .171. 

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