I enjoy reading papal encyclicals because not only do they reveal information about the Church’s history and doctrinal development, they also contain wisdom for everyday life. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Ecclesiam Suam from 1964, inviting all Christians to unity, has a short section about the method of dialogue (78-82), and while it is excellent advice for evangelizing in a pluralistic society, it benefits anyone trying to communicate with co-workers, friends, or family.
Pope Paul VI wrote that a willingness to dialogue is proof to others that you hold them in esteem and offer them kindness, that you are not bigoted, malicious, hostile, or arrogant. Being willing to listen and respond, rather than dictate and demand, shows the other person you respect his freedom and dignity. Dialogue, he said, is a way to make spiritual contact. He named the following four guidelines.
First, strive for clarity. Rather than babble away carelessly, be thoughtful with the words you choose and consider the audience. Human language, in its adaptability, is a great manifestation of mental powers. Are you making your message easy to understand? Can ordinary people grasp it? Is it intelligible?
Second, be meek. Be humble rather than arrogant. If your words are bitter, people won’t listen. If you are speaking what you know is true, then share the message with charity, making no demands and avoiding peremptory language that only shuts down the conversation. Under conflict, humility shows generosity and patience.
Third, be confident. Don’t waste words. If you aren’t sure of something you are saying, admit it for the sake of furthering the discussion. If you aren’t ready to discuss the issue further, then either refrain from discussion or be open to attentive listening. Having confidence in the good will of the hearer will also promote friendship, a mutual adherence to what is good overall rather than what is merely good for one’s self.
Fourth, be prudent. Your communication will serve the purpose of teaching if you consider the psychological and moral circumstances of the other person. If your audience is suspicious or hostile, be sensitive to that condition. Adapt the manner of presenting your ideas to the degree of intelligence of the hearer.
Pope Paul VI concludes that dialogue conducted with this much care weds truth to charity and understanding to love, which means that even if the Gospel message isn’t the direct object of our communication, we are still evangelizing because we dispose others to a fuller sharing of ideas and convictions, and thus, lead them to Christ.