It may be helpful to share a story of what Inquiry can (and is designed to) do before I get into the nitty-gritty of the how-to.
I have been known to have students in courses practice live Inquiry with a partner on a subject they disagreed on. In one case, I was teaching a course online where I was in one place and all the students were together in another. After covering the basics of Inquiry I gave the students an assignment:
- Work with someone (e.g., a classmate) you don’t know very well.
- Find a topic you disagree on quite strongly and have fairly strong opinions on how to manage, e.g., smoking restrictions, vegetarianism, using labor in low-wage countries … You may already have had a conversation with this person on this topic and realized you don’t see eye-to-eye.
- Start a discussion about the topic you have chosen. Make it the objective of the conversation to practice Inquiry, remaining curious about what the other person has to say.
- When you are done write one page (about 250 words) answering the following questions (a) How did it go? To what extent did you feel able to practice the phrases and attitude at the center of Inquiry? (b) How did you feel about the outcome of the conversation? In what ways was it different from other conversations where you disagreed with someone? (c) What can you apply from this exercise to future conversations?
To my delight, two students not only did the assignment thoroughly but took it in the spirit in which it was assigned—as a chance to really explore someone else’s views. These two students had opposing views on abortion. They sat down and practiced Inquiry, and its counterpart Advocacy (also based on the Ladder of Inference), for over an hour on this incredibly emotional and usually divisive topic. At the end they reported that although they hadn’t changed their views they had much greater understanding of the complexity of the issue, why the other person saw the issue the way he or she did, and had acquired greater respect of people who held the opposing view.
Don’t you think that if we would do this more often, we would all get along better together and maybe even find solutions that are more acceptable for both parties and greater acceptance for solutions?