Monologue or dialog?

The last week has seen a surge of Middle East news; much of which has been ignored; because the world coexists in a monologue and not a dialog. The news is that Syria has outwitted sanctions and bought computers in Dubai, Google recognizes Palestine, Prime Minister Netanyahu backs a referendum on any peace deal, Israel bombs Syria as the US considers its own military options, Syrian forces strike rebels in wide-ranging assaults, the illusion of calm and stability in the West bank is shattered following the murder of Eviatar father of five, Iranian plotters are convicted in Kenya, Jewish women fight Orthodox rule at the Wall, and Saudi Arabia allows sport for some school girls. A dialog is essential to resolve both the causes and the symptoms.

Courtesy of cable news and CNN, there was the 24-hour news cycle. This replaced the day-to-day cycle, where the public would read the days paper and watch the one nightly TV newscast. News was discussed among the family, with neighbors and work colleagues. Now, the internet and social media have added a new twist, with constant demand for new content and constant supply. However this is a two-fold trap: instead of sending out too little content, news providers and indeed the citizen reporter on blogs wind up sending out far too much; and consequently the message turns into a self-serving monologue, rather than a dialogue between the press and the public and the public and the public. People may see this constant stream of news as spam rather than valuable content.

So what’s the answer? How can the news and message be sent while engaging people in a discussion? How can enough content but not too much content be produced? Sort of like juggling between: This One is Too Much, This One is Too Little, and This One is Just Right. Answering these questions is tricky. Different news outlets demand different strategies. What works for the established press doesn’t always work for social media and blogs and vice-versa. Sending new material, updates and making comments every 10 minutes is a sure-fire way of encouraging readers to create email and spam filters shipping these to the trash can.

On the other hand sending only one tweet per day on Twitter would be far too little. Twitter moves fast. You need to be on there often to truly make connections and talk to people. Facebook and the blog is probably in between the two. Once a week is too sparse. Once a day is smarter. Cutting to the chase is to craft the perfect schedule for articles, editorials, news, blog posts, press releases, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and comments and Youtube clips. However all would all go to waste unless there is an engaging dialog rather than a monologue.

News and messages are a dialog when they bring up real questions and answers. Instead of sending out messages and details news needs to ask questions. Questions are inherently more interesting than statements, and posing a question is far more likely to generate a dialog than simply stating something. Listen first talk second is a good mantra, because the world has a bad habit of only talking and listening to itself. The world coexists in a monologue and not a dialog. An authentic dialog is not dueling monologues. People who are always learning are always ready to engage in dialogue. People who feel they already know everything or who are afraid to learn cannot engage in dialogue This is the problem in the Middle East, people feel they know everything and are afraid to learn new options. To resolve their problems the Middle East needs to WAIT: Why Am I Talking?

The issue is not communication nor is it the quality of communication. Everyone wants to talk and no-one wants to be talked to. The culture of politics, however is one of risk aversion. To avoid the risk, any potential dialog is limited despite the internet and social media. Structures and hierarchies don’t tolerate those who flout the “party line” and engage in debate that could risk the continuity of the established structures and hierarchies. These hierarchies are networks and compete to control anything that could challenge them; why do we need managers and leaders if we can go directly to the employee or civil servant for the answer? External dialog can only succeed after internal dialog has succeeded within organizations; the elders and leaders have to accept change is inevitable rather than challenge and veto any proposal as a threat requiring risk aversion. Listen, think, ask questions and engage in a dialog; this is the art and science of diplomacy that is lacking and hence inhibiting progress.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.