What are Liberating Conversations ?

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Conversation can be a means for personal liberation. Often, past assessments occur as a disempowerment. But we can reframe that, and create new meaning through generative new conversations that liberate us from our past.

Ximena Davilla and Humberto Maturana describe their approach to this as “Liberating Conversations.” Its aim is to free people from constraints imposed upon us by our past assessments. These are things that people say about themselves that shape our perceptions of ourselves, and as a result, impact our relationships to others. These are always cultural attitudes that we learned either from our experience or from significant others, which we regard as being the truth about our self, the belief in which costs us our self-love or self-respect. They are also often the residual artifacts arising from an experience where love was lost in the past. This loss can be healed by the presencing of love being heard in the listening of the one who suffers, through a liberating conversation.

The way to bring liberation is through a kind of conversation that establishes the inherent validity of people. This method involves recognizing and accepting our lived experience, including the natural emotion and thoughts that constitute who we are being and how we are acting.

People identify with their own emotional experience, even as they rely on their logic and thinking to assess reality. But it is our emotions that predispose us to many of the actions we take in the living of life. Such feelings provide a personal sense of validity. In many cases, our reliance on purely logical conclusions blinds us to our feelings. So we often do not see the ways in which our emotions shape our assessments. In practice what we think and feel are so deeply connected in the brain that we often do not distinguish them as being separate. We feel our thoughts and we think our feelings.

It’s fair to say that emotion and thinking co-arise. That means that a transformation in feeling can transform thinking as well, and visa-verse. The immediacy of a shift in feelings can thus change what we think. The key to this is the embodiment that serves as the common denominator and the structure for both emotions and thought. Both are biologically grounded in the body. It is through the architecture of our brain and nervous system that who we are what we are doing is structurally determined. So the transformation that we are speaking of occurs in our ways of being and or ways of acting. We consciously or subconsciously experience this as self-identity and it plays out in our behavior.

With Liberating Conversations we validate people by listening to them and reflecting their own validity back to them. In a conversation of shared reflections, we cultivate a mood and atmosphere that is supportive and loving. By talking to each other, we and they are reflecting aloud to share our thoughts and feeling. Liberating conversations occur in a cultural space that has an emotional quality and the feeling of contact between us. This begins with the realization that much of what we suffer about is sourced in shared cultural meaning that has been internalized and held as a truth. One realizes that they are not alone in a world of suffering.

Emotions may seem to be a private experience, but people are also living in a shared emotional space. The emotions of other people directly affect our emotions, and this process will even bypass logical thinking. Psychological adaptation is a phenomenon of the cultural space in which we live together with others. That which can harm us also has the potential to heal us. So we can cause liberations for each other when we validate others, just as we can cause subjugation when invalidating others.

Loving-kindness and tenderness are by their very nature transformative. The action of accepting the validity of others as being inherently valid is the doing that expresses them in our behavior. Ultimately these emotions alter the ways that we sense and perceive others in our social environment.

This view given by liberating conversations is thus progressive and humanistic. It expresses the ethical and moral sense inherited from traditions that value love. There is a movement in it away from judgment and condemnation which invalidate people. I believe it is a distinction that differentiates ethics from morality because the absence of judging people is distinctly ethical. The inherent validity of people is a description of love which is neither sentimental, nor of infatuation, or erotic. Rather it is a humanistic loving which is essentially compassionate.

These ideas are those of Ximena Davilla and Humbert Maturana of the Matriztica Institute of Santiago Chile. The interpretation of them I am presenting in this blog is entirely my understanding of it, from having attended a workshop with them in 2012, from my recollections, notes, reading and reflections about it. For more information about this, and related subjects, and training, please refer to http://www.matriztica.cl/

Davilla-Yanez, Ximena, "Liberating Conversations", in Constructivist Foundations: an Interdisciplinary Journal,Volume 6, No 3,The Work of Humberto Maturana and Its Application Across the Sciences. Alexander Reigner and Pille Bunnell eds. July 2011,PP 381-387

Image: Couple 9 by Marlina Vera, with permission.

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