Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dialogue not Monologue: A Sort of a Response to Dr. Tony Humphreys


Oftentimes we have to call in the experts because we have no other way out.  Serious, and indeed not so serious, medical problems come to mind as do problems with plumbing, sewage, drainage, electricity and so on.  Then in the education field, in which I work, we need the advice of experts with troublesome, even no so troublesome ADHD, ADD, ODD or ASD children.  We certainly do need our experts to improve our practice, add to our skills base or even to encourage and confirm us in our own good practice.  Indeed, that's what the inspectorate should be and do ideally.

The Wisdom of the Non-Expert

However, there is place for the wise lay person who is far from being an expert.  What comes to mind here is the recent controversy over an article written in The Examiner by the clinical psychologist Dr Tony Humphreys which questioned whether ASD is a good label or not for those who have been diagnosed as so being.  Indeed he went further still and questioned whether ASD existed at all as a neurological disorder.  Now the article caused consternation among parents of ASD children for two reasons: (i) the author implied, according to those who angrily rang Joe Duffy's Live Line programme on RTE Radio One, that their cold uncaring treatment of their children initially caused the ASD and (ii) because a diagnosis given by the mainstream experts (not mavericks like Dr. Tony Humphreys) brings a certain amount of emotional relief, not to mention financial relief as it allows access to professional care and facilities, which are not too thick on the ground anyway.

Having read Dr Humphreys article a few times, I don't think that he actually said what these sensitive parents understood him as having said.  Admittedly, a sensitive reader (i.e., parent or teacher) could make that inference.  However, he did appear on Marian Finucane's Saturday morning programme to answer his critics.  He stated that people were putting words in his mouth and that he had absolutely never said that parents were at fault.  Indeed, he had not.  He also re-affirmed and reiterated the fact that he always insists in every seminar he gives and in every book he has ever written that parents are not at fault at all; that if ever they are at fault, it is only done unconsciously.  Dr. Humphreys is a sincere man and one could not deny that.  However, the good Doctor has made a very basic mistake in philosophy, that is, he has been living so long in the world of the expert (a well-paid expert at that as I have attended many of his seminars over the years and have forked out hard earned money to hear him) that he has begun to believe in his own expertese, hook, line and sinker.  Now a philosopher does not do that.  In fact a good philosopher is always questioning his own suppositions and pre-suppositions, and indeed his motivations.  He would ask questions like, What if I'm wrong?  Why do others hold differing opinions?  What's the evidence on the opposing side of the argument?  What if I'm right?  If I am right what are the implications of what I'm saying?   Or even more to the point, What will be the feelings of parents and teachers if I write X,Y or Z?   Or, again, Maybe there is a more approriate forum than a weekly column to express these views?

The Arrogant Expert

Now, I am not going to throw the accusation of arrogance at Dr. Humphreys because I have never found him so over the years I have attended his seminars and read his popular books.  What I do find objectionable is his sheer conviction that he is fully correct, that is, "I'm the expert and I have the answers" stance.  This is not what a good philosopher in the tradition of the great Socrates would allow.  On the contrary a good philosopher starts with questioning throroughly his own assumptions.  Now, I have met a few arrogant experts in my life and they have come from all walks of life.  I remember one psychologist taking a whole staff to task, and outrageously so, over a certain method of discipline they were using in a school (and it had nothing to do with corporal punishment in any shape or form as that has been outlawed since 1981 here in Ireland.)  On several occasions I have met inspectors, who have never done very much teaching in the careers at all, being severely critical of classroom practices of X or Y teacher.  Save us from these experts, these so-called experts!

We do need Debate and Dialogue

Now, let us not stifle debate.  That there are many positions and arguments about X theory or Y theory in any field you may care to mention is without doubt.  We need to hear all sides of a particular argument and the majority of experts in any given field must be the ones who give the near-as-possible-to-consensus answer.  Now that answer must remain until it is disproved.  That seems to be good solid common sense.

As a sufferer from clinical depression for the last fifteen or so years I am quite content with my diagnosis and I am not in a hurry to throw away my antidepressant medication even though I have read much of the publications of the anti-medication lobby in mental health.  Now, this does not mean either that I have never gone to counselling or psychotherapy or engaged in other non-medical complementary practices like meditation and yoga.  In other words, it is never an either/or answer but rather a both/and in most cases.  I readily admit that in some cases medication has been given rather too readily making problems worse but in the balance of things our medical profession call most cases correctly from my experience.  Again, this is not to deny the serious failures in the system which we can read all too frequently about in our media.

Yes we need a well-informed debate.  More than that we need Dialogue.  I have been reading of late that wonderful master of the dialogic way of approaching life itself, viz., the wonderful Martin Buber.  In the terms invented and used by this great Jewish philosopher, we can say that Dr Humphreys has given us a monolgue, whereas what we teachers (and parents) need is real dialogue where the I of the expert meets the Thou of the non-expert and vice-versa and the wisdom and humanity of both are affirmed.

1 comment:

Sara Kaderly said...

I agree with you that this subject does need more dialogue. I too have been reading about Martin Buber’s work through various textbooks. Two main points from my readings that interested me most were: monologues are sometimes necessary and bias plays a major role in dialogue.

“Contrary to its common denouncement, monologue has an important place in communicative life. There are times when the Other should “tell” us information; we simply take notes and listen” (Arnett et all, 2009, p84) Being a stubborn person myself, this thought was hard to swallow. After really thinking about the implications, however, it only makes sense. Monologue, therefore, is integral in learning, which Buber understood. “If we do not value another’s telling, we move to dialogue upon demand, and dialogue, by definition, resists the demand that communicative life meet “my” standards” (p84).

Hans Gadamer’s theory on dialogue includes the role of bias in understanding. He believed that the following steps were necessary in creating effective dialogue.

1. Admission of bias
2. Respect the bias of the Other
3. Willingness to permit the “fusion of horizons,” the interplay of two differing images, to shape a given direction
4. Meeting the Other can affect one’s worldview, for good or ill (p86)

So many times we are taught to put aside our biased views prior to starting communication with the Other – this biased view would only hinder the communication process. But for Gadamer’s world, “dialogue begins, ends and begins again with bias” (p86).

What do you think about bias and its role in dialogue? Would the admission of bias into the dialogue you are suggesting hinder or help effective communication?

Arnett, Ronald C; Harden Fritz, Janie M.; Bell, Leeanne M. (2009) Communication Ethics Literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sara Kaderly