Disagree over something? Let's talk

Disagree over something? Let's talk

I echo the call in yesterday's editorial to better manage divisive issues in society ("A dot, but big enough to accommodate all").

There has been a trend of using both mainstream and alternative media to advance different points of view. The court of public opinion has been engaged through Facebook postings, open letters and press statements through which the authorities, organisations and opinion leaders advance their points of view.

It is troubling that contentious disagreements are publicly aired only through the media, and not through face-to-face dialogue. These include the opposing views over not only the Pink Dot event, but also the Central Provident Fund and trust in the Government. Earlier this year, there was even a public e-mail spat between the leaders of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

While such debates and discourses are hallmarks of democracy, they are not necessarily conducive to ending stalemates. Stakeholders are usually talking at each other, but not to each other. Arguments are put forward, but are not necessarily received. The time lag in non-instant communication also does not invite appropriate reciprocity for problem-solving.

The media platforms are akin to a gladiator's arena - the crowd does not really care who wins or loses, but merely cheers and jeers when blood is shed. The voices of those who really care are drowned out amid the cacophony of voices.

As life becomes more complex in Singapore, we need to have the resolve to better manage the reality of emerging conflicts. Public organisations and interest groups need to engage in collaborative dialogue more deliberately.

A dialogue may not necessarily lead to consensus. But even an emotive dialogue, if facilitated on neutral ground by a skilled moderator, can lead to greater empathy about the other party's wants, needs and desires. Parties can still agree to disagree, but they walk away with better understanding of how to engage constructively with minimal hostility.

I hope that in times of conflict and disagreements, Singaporeans can still listen attentively, look one another in the eye, offer a firm handshake and walk away with grace and charity.

Linda Heng (Ms)

This article was first published on July 01, 2014.
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