How can ten letters inform a theory and a practice on topics as diverse as the information economy and interfaith dialogue? To me, the key to engagement is hidden in the word itself.
The middle syllable of engagement reminds me of the word gauge. Whether used as a noun or a verb, gauge evokes ideas of measurement and evaluation.
Our lives are full of estimates made simpler with the assistance of gauges: we use landmarks to gauge distances, fuel gauges to decide when to turn off the highway and pressure gauges to inflate bike tires.
But whether or not we drive a car or ride a bike, we all have internal gauges as well.
We use our gauges in many different situations: when we meet a new person, step into an unfamiliar space or encounter a complex concept.
As soon as we come into contact with the unknown, we immediately try to locate it in relation to our experiences, beliefs, education, upbringing and a host of other factors that constitute each person’s framework for making sense of the world.
This is a completely normal process, and it’s something that most of us do many times each day. But what sets Responsibility to Engage apart from other moments in our daily lives is that the success of the conference, like any sincere dialogue, depends on each of us turning off the impulse to evaluate.
Instead of allowing our internal gauges to determine our reaction to new ideas and innovative forms of discussion, we must suspend judgment and make space, both in our minds and in our agendas, for the unexpected.
Riding a bike involves overcoming the fear of leaning to far to the left or the right. Learning to drive requires taking your eyes off the speedometer to observe the traffic around you. Similarly, engaging in dialogue means resisting the urge to rush to conclusions and instead taking the time to consider each point of view put forward.
So as we prepare for both formal panels and spontaneous conversations on October 8th, I invite you all to disengage the instinct to gauge people and ideas and embrace the spirit of inclusion that brings us together for Responsibility to Engage.
– Emily Macrae