I have wanted to introduce you to The Red Hand Files for a while now. The Red Hand Files are written by Nick Cave – a boldly creative musician and all-round wonderfully wise human. The Red Hand Files are his replies to questions that have been sent to him concerning anything and everything.
This last week in issue #212 he was asked by Laura in the USA: “Is it better to keep quiet or to speak one’s mind?” And Ray from the UK asked: “I have heard you mention “good faith conversations” several times now. What is a good faith conversation and how do you have one?” Here is Nick’s reply:
Dear Laura and Ray,
A good faith conversation begins with curiosity. It looks for common ground while making room for disagreement. It should be primarily about exchange of thoughts and information rather than instruction, and it affords us, among other things, the great privilege of being wrong; we feel supported in our unknowing and, in the sincere spirit of inquiry, free to move around the sometimes treacherous waters of ideas. A good faith conversation strengthens our better ideas and challenges, and hopefully corrects, our low-quality or unsound ideas.
I have learned that it’s best to retract, disengage and to change the subject once a conversation ceases to be in good faith. In general, I have found it to be a waste of time to expend too much energy on someone whose mind is fully made up, who does not understand the nature of conversation and the true value of disagreement. To me, it seems a kind of inverse metric often applies to these kinds of conversations – the shriller, more strident and more certain your interlocutor, the less they tend to know on the subject. I say this with a fair amount of discomfort because there are times when I have been that self-righteous person. Who hasn’t? Who hasn’t felt that near erotic charge when the wind is in the sails of a subject we know little about? As we grow into ourselves, hopefully we learn the folly of that.
A good faith conversation understands fundamentally that we are all flawed and prone to the occasional lamentable idea. It understands and sympathises with the common struggle to articulate our place in the world, to make sense of it, and to breathe meaning into it. It can be illuminating, rewarding and of great value – a good faith conversation begins with curiosity, gropes toward awakening and retires in mercy.
In a world filled with twitter jabs and clickbait headlines, and where the point of so much public conversation is to score points, may we all be given the grace to have “good faith conversations”. The goodness of one’s Faith depends on it and so does Life on earth.