Reasonable dialogue on hot issues

Ben Teehankee

Managing for Society

The Manila Times

September 21, 2015

Now that Sen. Grace Poe has announced her intention to run for the presidency, we already have an interesting three-way contest for the leadership of the country. In any case, I look forward to a debate among the candidates so that we can see where they stand on the issues and where they plan to bring the country.

While we wait for the debates, it’s important that we, as citizens, also dialogue on the merits of these candidates and, for that matter, the issues they will have to face on our behalf. This will help us make a wise choice come election time. But as is customary among Filipinos, our pleasant and happy nature begins to give way to contentiousness, argumentativeness and sometimes outright rudeness and unreasonableness when it involves political and social issues.

This is unhealthy. A democracy means that power emanates from the people – that the people will generate collective wisdom through reason and thus choose leaders who will embody the highest ideals of the country and harness these for the common good.

The physicist and management guru Eliyahu Goldratt developed the Logical Thinking Processes (LTP) as a system for reasonably analyzing and talking about problems in systems. Although Goldratt developed the LTP for business systems, they are perfectly suitable for social and political systems, with only slight modification, which I use here.

In discussing issues, the LTP recommends that the exchange proceed in sequence to establish clarity, then truth and then adequacy. Bypassing the sequence causes confusion and, often, tension and hostility. Let’s see how this can work out during a hypothetical dialogue about the INC protest rallies in late August. Note that my purpose in this dialogue is not to argue with or persuade the other person, but to clarify the issue so that I can make up my own mind.

Let’s start with clarity. A supporter of the INC protest rallies argues that they were protesting the violation of the separation of Church and State shown by the DOJ’s action on the illegal detention cases filed by estranged INC leaders against the leaders of the church. I could ask: “I’m not sure I understand something. Could you CLARIFY what you mean by the principle of separation of Church and State?” He explains that the government should not entertain this case since it involves an internal church conflict. What this clarifies to me is that the arguer is using the principle differently from what I understand it as meant by the Constitution, i.e., the guarantee of a secular state. Setting aside the difference in the use of terminology, the main issue being raised is that the government is meddling in an internal affair.

What about truth? Is the case, in fact, an internal matter within the INC? I could ask: “Hmm, maybe I still don’t understand. HOW DO WE KNOW that it is an internal matter? Doesn’t the filing of the case with the DOJ make it a public matter, especially since a crime is alleged? Can you help me understand?” The arguer concedes that the filing of a criminal case does make it a public matter but maintains that the DOJ should handle it with utmost fairness.

And finally, adequacy. This is where we try to establish whether a result or action necessarily follows or sufficiently follows from a situation or condition. I ask: “Why are you asking Secretary de Lima to resign?” The INC protest supporter argues that since they feel aggrieved by the actions of the DOJ in the case, they feel justified to demand the resignation of Secretary de Lima.

I conclude the dialogue by saying that while I believe that the separation of Church and State has not been violated and that the filing of a criminal case makes the issue a public matter, I understand why they feel aggrieved and are protesting. This is their privilege in a democracy. I only wish that the dialogue with the government on their concerns had been held earlier, before it caused the paralysis of EDSA.