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Thomas Steinforth

Dialogical Diaconia

"Diaconia" as this year's Topic of the German Bishops' Discussion Process


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 2/2012, pp. 75-86.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Thomas Steinforth, Advisor of the Board of the Caritas Association of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising e.V. examines the principles and conditions for a successful dialogue with regard to the charitable commitment of the Church and the dialogue process established by the German bishops.


In 2012, the by the German bishops' initiated discussion process will deal with the topic diaconia {1}. This choice of this topic underlines the importance of diaconia (i.e. 'serving') as the basic performance of the church - a church that, in the words of Jacques Gaillot, has to serve if she wants to be of any use at all.

By using precisely the example of the basic performance of diaconia, it can be shown that the dialogue which is aspired to by the bishops {2}, is quasi a dialogue of the second order: The dialogue on "diaconia" is a dialogue about an action which is per se based on dialogue - or at least it should be so. This statement raises two questions: What is actually a dialogue and what are the prerequisites for a successful dialogue? In what way is diaconia a dialogic action and which requirements do result from it?


What is actually a Dialog?

Given the obvious importance of conceptual clarity for every dialogue, it is surprising that the term "dialogue" is by no means used in a clear and unambiguous way. So what is a "dialogue"?

A dialogue is a mutual exchange between people (in some cases as representatives of groups or institutions) with the aim to understand each other better than before the dialogue with regard to a certain "matter", and to achieve a better knowledge of this matter; a gain in knowledge which so would be impossible without dialogue, and which (depending on the issue and situation) may in some cases be of relevance to practice. Dialogue never starts at a "neutral point"; and it is not solely dependent on the good will of the participants. The following factors should always be taken into account.

Prior knowledge and preunderstanding: The dialogue is taking place on the basis of a supposed or accurate prior knowledge of the parties concerned, their more or less correct preunderstanding, and on their perspective - regarding both the matter and the other participants in the dialogue. Prior knowledge and preunderstanding are inevitable and not per se problematic.



However, the dialogue participants must be aware of their prior knowledge and preunderstanding and also be able to "exclude" them, to the extent that the position of the other party becomes perceptible for them at all.

Quite a few dialogues fail because of the fact that the parties concerned, due to unthinking prejudices and lack of knowledge about their ignorance, mistakenly think they always know already "what's what" and "what the other party wants to say."

Language as the pre-determined medium: Language, which is essential for the dia-logue, is not simply an arbitrarily applicable instrument but a socially and culturally determined medium, within which the dialogue participants are always to be found already.

For the intended gain in knowledge it is often necessary to find first a common language: i.e. to overcome the gap between the language of so-called "experts" and the language of so-called "people concerned", to become aware of the social and cultural background of the respective talking or to clarify the central concepts. Quite a few dialogues fail due to the fact that the parties virtually think of different things, although they seemingly say the same.

The "between" as "soil" of gain in knowledge: The course of the dialogue is not only determined by the participants. The dialogue lives in and from the "betweenness" of the participants: in it and from it something may occur and result which can be controlled only conditionally by the participants.

In the dialogue "Phaedrus", Plato, the master of a philosophy developed in the form of dialogue, compares the conducting of dialogues with putting seeds into soil, the care about the seedlings, and the patiently waiting for the things which will come out from the soil. In modern terms: the dialogue is not a cooperative production of knowledge that can be controlled linearly; those who conduct dialogues do not "manage" them; they must also be willing to be guided by the movements within the "betweenness".

The "matter" at stake: In a dialogue it is not primarily about a mutual understanding of the people involved, i.e. to understand the other person as such (let alone "in its entirety" - this applies also to social work) but about an understanding "on the matter."

Philosophy of language and epistemology point out that we refer in speaking not only to some 'complete' reality, but only just in speaking we constitute this reality in a certain sense. Associated with this view is the socio-constructivist position that the "social reality", which is shared by several people, is not least constituted by the interaction of talking with each other. Both findings are as true as mistakable. What is correct is the rejection of a too naive realistic understanding of cognition and language, and the finding that some realities remain, as it were, unreal if one does not dialogically "talk about" them and thus brings about that they become effective in changing (these realities).



This applies in particular to experiences of suffering: they are a painful reality for those who suffer, but without the possibility of dialogically "talking about" them they get no "social reality" and remain for that very reason effective.

But it would be a misconception to think that the dialogue participants were able, as it were, to create the "matter" by talking about it, and that they had the "matter", like a constructed object, "under control". They rather refer to a given "matter", for which it must be made possible to show itself, out of itself, (differently, better, more clearly) to the participants. By speaking with each other the participants in fact construct reality. However, this joint performance of construing is at the same time a joint openness for that which shows itself "out of the matter talked about."

The respective other dialogue participant: Although it is primarily about an understanding "about the matter", the dialogue participants always refer also to the other participants. In this respect the failed agreement on the matter may well be commented with the disappointed statement, "You do not understand me." The one who wants to reach an agreement on a matter must be willing to get involved with the other person, as regards his horizon of sense, his values, his outlook, his experiences and his knowledge. Quite a few dialogues fail also by the fact that one talks with the other person in a way as if he would be (or should be so), as one would like that he and his view are.


Against a Narrowed Understanding of Dialogue

The outlined understanding of dialogue is deliberately designed to be open, in order to do justice to our many and diverse ways of conducting "dialogues." There are above all two aspects as regards the danger of a too narrow understanding of dialogue:

What is exchanged in the dialogue or introduced into the dialogue? Dialogues are sometimes limited to the exchange of "objective" information and "reasonable" arguments, in order to distinguish them from other forms of communication. However, the expression of judgemental emotions, the description of inner experience, the telling of subjective experiences and of one's "being personally affected" can be admissible and necessary components of the dialogic exchange; provided they are so contributed that the other dialogue participants can understand them at least approximately. It is quite possible to formulate also person-related contents (emotions, experiences, experience) in such a way that they can be understood. In addition to reasoning, also the telling can e.g. be an important act of dialogic speech.

What is the objective of a dialogue? The dialogue differs from the mere "talking about something" through the pursuit of a gain in knowledge.



This has not always to be a successful "agreement". Also a dialogue that only leads to the disillusioned insight that one until now only seemingly shared the same opinion produces precisely that knowledge which can be very productive for a better understanding.


Preconditions of a Successful Dialogue

If the talking with each other is supposed to be a dialogue, the following attitudes and actions are required - be it in dialogues in the context of charitable social work, in the aforementioned dialogue process, or in other dialogues:

"Dialogue with oneself" in order to be aware of one's own horizon of sense and values, and of the always already effective prior knowledge and prior understanding;

reflected exclusion {3} (not "forgetting") of prior knowledge and prior understanding, so that the reality of the matter in question and the views of the other person can become visible;

Willingness to put one's reasons into words, in some cases even to bear 'witness' or to give "account";

Recognition of the other person as dialogue partner who is different from me and is at the same time on equal footing with me (in spite of all the undeniable differences in knowledge, skills and experience);

Openness to the reality that comes out from the discussed "matter": Due to the dialogic discussion, the "matter itself" can develop authority {4};

Willingness to be told something, and not merely to want to inform one-sidedly or to instruct; that is, the intention to learn "not only to lecture but, should the occasion arise, to revise, nuance or change your opinion, and to see new things and to appreciate things which were previously hidden from you" {5};

Willingness to let oneself be impressed by the verbal and non-verbal self-expression of the other person, without abandoning one's own active role in the dialogue {6};

Willingness cognitively, emotionally, and "imaginatively" {7} to empathize with the situation and perspective and the peculiarities of the other person - in a permanent awareness that it is not one's own situation;

Willingness to find a common language;

Willingness also to "read between the lines" without psychologizing "in a know-it-all manner"; because in some cases essential contents (in particular aspects of subjective emotional experience) cannot be conceptually grasped one-to-one;

Willingness to get involved with the motions within the 'betweenness' of the dialogue participants, without being driven by these motions: "In the dialogue, the space of interaction of the betweenness has a power of its own, a moving dynamism." {8}



Willingness to 'bother' others, and, conversely to allow to be irritated by them: Dialogue must be respectful {9}, but needs not be "nice". Also criticism and disagreement may be dialogic;

to have a feel for the power of one's own words to determine and to injure, and for the vulnerability of the listener to these words {10};

eschewal of any form of manipulation or even coercion {11};

no exploitation of the dialogue for undisclosed purposes.


Successful Dialogue: Illusion or Regulative Ideal?

This list may create the impression that any attempt to conduct a dialogue is doomed to failure. This assessment is confirmed by a system-theoretical understanding of dialogue participants as "self-referential systems": they can, strictly speaking, speak only in and with themselves, due to their closedness and self-reference. But even in this view, the dialogue needn't be therefore a pointless exercise:

"Self-referential systems have to rely on the attempt to communicate with others, precisely because they are not able to understand themselves, precisely because they live for better or for worse in their homespun world. This experiment remains admittedly tentative; it will never reach the goal; it at best brings about changes, or differences as regards the previous status. These may be constructive and profitable for the parties that participate in such a process, which can be assessed as dialogue. {12}

In other words, the "ideal dialogue", outlined with the elements mentioned above, is a regulative ideal: it should guide every effort to engage in dialogue. Already the credible efforts to conduct this dialogue can promote the joint cognition and understanding.


About the Reality and Importance of the Dialogue within the Church

The credibility of the efforts to conduct a dialogue is particularly required as regards the talking within the church: it lives naturally from its credibility. Even in the church there are, on the one hand, open dialogue refusals. On the other hand, quite a few communication processes get the label "dialogue", although they are, from lack of care, professionalism and methodology, and sometimes even deliberately, no dialogues but aimless talking with each other, talking at cross purposes, instructions wrapped as pseudo-dialog, or diversionary maneuvers in order to reduce possible opposition. Refusal of dialogue can definitely be organized in the external form of a dialogue.



Of course, at the latest since the Council {13} there are time and again examples of successful dialogue. Also the opening event of the aforementioned dialogue process in Mannheim is described by many participants as an event where a credible commitment to genuine dialogue and an appropriate methodology could be experienced - even though the 'hosts' (the German bishops) were incomplete represented.

Ecclesial dialogue comes from the Church as "communion" of believers who experience God's call and encouragement. At the same time, the dialogue revives just this "communion". The Church needs more urgently than ever the dialogue within the Church and with the so-called "world" (which is not outside the church). Indeed, not every religious speech, in the sense described can be "dialogic": there are essential "speech acts" of the Church which primarily approach people as receiving "listeners" {14}. Nevertheless, the authentic effort to communicate dialogically in all basic performances of the Church (not only in the diaconia) is necessary, if one does not want that the communication of the Church becomes stunted: a complacent Catholic soliloquy of a "remnant" that sees itself as "holy" but is no longer able to afford neither salvation nor world service.

Already in 1967, Karl Rahner, SJ, who was quite aware of "the constant danger of slipping into ambiguity and chatter" {15}, reminded of the fact that the Church needs the dialogue, and that

"in such a dialogue she can and must be the one who is learning: she can be deeper introduced to her own truth and its understanding; she can remove resonating misunderstandings and abridging interpretations from this truth; she can deepen her faith; she can still acquire the concrete historical form of the lasting truth as source of her hopeful and loving deed, which must now be formed by her, so that she is able to effectively proclaim the gospel of God in Christ to her time" {16}.


Basis of the Dialogue

A not yet mentioned prerequisite for a genuine dialogue is of fundamental importance for the dialogic talking, although or precisely because it does not happen while speaking: it takes place, as it were, 'mute' and, viewed in this light, it precedes the actual, 'talking' dialogue:

The Danish ethicist and philosopher of religion Knud Ejler Logstrup points out that mutual self-surrender is part of the structure of human living together. It takes place in every encounter. Whenever a human being encounters another, she/he has, in a certain sense, her/his life and fate in her/his hand.



Depending on the specific relationship and situation, there may be a quite different extent and distribution of this power resulting from having the other person in my hand - but a human being can basically not do otherwise than trust that the other person does not abuse this power. Out of this trust, however, the original 'ethical demand' arises, the demand to take the life of the one who encounters and trusts you 'into your care' {17}. This original demand arises out of the granted confidence. It precedes every articulated and explicit request, and is in this respect 'mute'. It is in the non-delegable responsibility of the one to whom is granted confidence to grasp the specific content of the demand. But what is clear is that he has to face this demand and respond to it. And he must also find out how the demand of his vis-à-vis can be adequately fulfilled here and now. Depending on the situation, this can be obvious but also questionable.

According to that, the actual dialogue, where demands, concerns and perspectives are 'uttered' in concrete terms, can only be understood correctly in its meaning, if it is seen as attempt to find the here and now appropriate answer to an primary, radical mute call. According to Logstrup, the ethical question of what I have to do here and now can never be answered satisfactorily by merely applying general values and principles to specific situations. According to this view, situations and people are reduced to mere cases of application by a purely deductive 'breaking down' (which is basically conceivable as a "monologue") of abstract values and principles. The appropriate response has to be found in the situation and in the actual encounter - not necessarily always, but often by means of the dialogic conversation that takes place on the foundation of the "mute dialogue": the interplay of the original demand and the responding 'taking into care."

Following the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas {18}, this response to the original 'mute' demand of the other person, which precedes and is the basis of the actual 'worded' dialogue, can be understood as 'dia-conia', i.e. as the willingness to be taken into service by the one who meets me - a readiness that is fundamental and at the same time urges me to put the matter in concrete terms. From this primary service in view of the other person, the necessity of and motivation arise for a dialogue that takes the other person seriously as a different person. In this respect, Levinas can say in his famous formula "dia-conie avant tout dialogue" {19} that diaconia precedes dialogue.

Diaconia in the sense of Levinas therefore precedes every concrete dialogue and is its basis. Every concrete dialogue must be judged by the question of whether it really meets the standard of responsibility for the other person as a different person and for the sake of the other person or is merely a tactical-communicative, self-interested maneuver.



But diaconia in the here outlined, original sense requires then also that the concrete-charitable practice (in 'our' understanding of diaconia) has, at least in many cases, to be organized in a dialogic way, so that it complies with the claim to do justice to the other person and to the situation, and that it is conducted for the sake of the person.


Diaconia as dialogic Event

Diaconia can therefore be described as an event that is or should be essentially dialogical. What, however, shows the dialogical nature of charitable social work? To answer this, first the concept of diaconia has to be clarified:

"All forms of practice which are motivated by Christian faith or interpretable as Christian ones ... , where people who suffer from want and hardship experience help: through solidarity, mitigation, overcoming of their misery and by tackling its causes can be described as diaconia. 'Hardship or poverty' ... mean situations where people suffer from imposed restriction of possibilities of life, where a fulfilled personal life and equal participation in social events are impeded or made difficult. 'Help' means those actions where someone uses his ability to act, in order to compensate other people's lacking ability to act." {20}

Diaconia can assume very different forms and occurs in very different contexts, but it is basically a dialogic event: in the sense that at least in many cases substantial acts of help are dialogic acts - or at least they should be it. The following aspects are to be mentioned.

Inclusion of the perspective of the 'person concerned': The active involvement of the experiences, perspectives, needs and requirements of the so-called "persons concerned" during the aid procedure is of central importance. It is about the extension of the possibilities of their life and their actions. Following a formulation of Immanuel Kant, it can be said that no diaconia is allowed to move in a subtly manipulative way or even to force the other person to become happy according to the happiness concept of the one who gives assistance in the field of diaconia. There is needed a dialogue in the sense of Jesus' question to the blind Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?", a dialogue where the other person is involved, in order to avoid this paternalism and to avoid a socio-technological procedure that underrates the other person.

However, as necessary as it is to avoid paternalistic condescension, so little is it possible that the one whose job is diaconia is simply told 'one-to-one', by the concrete statements of the person concerned, what has to be done. Many a social problem is also linked with a narrowed view as regards the subjective preferences and conceptions of a good life. It has to be widened carefully in a constructive and critical dialogue, and in compliance with the above-mentioned elements of a successful dialogue. In addition to the dialogical basic attitude also the respective professional skills in communication and counseling are required, in order to cope with this balancing act {21}.



Imparting of the things that are helpful: Every communication in the field of diaconia (e.g. in a counseling session) must ask itself whether it is actually beneficial (German: 'dienlich' - diaconia!) to the person concerned as regards her/his particular situation and indigence, or is rather to satisfy the speaker's unconscious need to confide in someone. The one who works in the field of diaconia should admittedly be prepared to answer the questions of the person concerned: questions regarding his person, his horizon of sense, and the reason for his action (also the reason for his faith!). However, the concern that the other person, her/his situation and requests become really the topic might basically rather be guaranteed if the one who is working and talking in the field of diaconia exercises restraint, as it is advised in the concepts of professional counselling (but not always positively experienced by the person concerned!).

Opportunity for 'lamenting': If need be, the dialogical inclusion of the 'person concerned' is to give her/him the opportunity for 'lamenting'. Lamenting is an "irreducible expression of the subjective being of man" and an "authentic expression of the experience of people in distress" {22}. It must not be excluded from the dialogical encounter in the course of diaconia (and pastoral care) - not even with the argument that one must work in a solution-oriented way and therefore avoid every concentration on problems:

"To give the opportunity for lamenting, and not just the subsequent comforting interpretation of experienced suffering, is per se diaconia: a service to man's humanity. The possibility, namely, to express one's own misery, along with one's aggressive and paralyzing feelings, but also with one's longings and hopes, is the last, uncircumventable form in which a suffering human being can assert itself as the subject of action." {23}

Of course, the dialogue in the field of diaconia must go beyond the mere opportunity for 'lamenting'. It is also necessary to enable the person concerned to articulate hopes and desirable target situations, to work out in a dialogic way possible 'solutions', and to activate the sometimes hidden resources. In the profession of social work there is an abundance of solution-oriented, empowering, and resource-oriented counseling techniques, which should be used in the here outlined attitude of a constructive and critical dialogue. However, in order to take man as a responsible subject of his/her search for solutions seriously, she/he must also and first be able to express her/his problems and sufferings in such a way that they can make an impression.

Dialogue with seemingly speechless people: The aspiration to work in a 'dialogic way' must not be abandoned with the assertion that certain target groups are insufficiently able to contribute to a dialogue. In particular, people with intellectual disabilities, with mental illness or dementia are too often excluded from communicative exchange and negotiation processes.



The reason for exclusion can be a narrow understanding of language which regards some ways of communication as improper for dialogue, lack of efforts to practice other ways of language and talking which are definitely available (for example in the so-called 'Easy Language' {24}), contemptuous dealing with the apparent language of the other person (e.g. the "baby-talk" for people with dementia), or lack of time and work overload, which makes it structurally difficult for charitable social workers to get really involved with the other person.

The exclusion from the dialogue is disrespectful towards the person concerned and may affect her/his self-respect, because she/he experiences that her/his talking is not perceived as the communication of a 'person' but ultimately as a mere 'noise'. Moreover, the non-recognition of whole groups of people as dialogue participants is fatal, because society usually takes the experiences, needs and interests only then into account in an appropriate way if it is possible to put them forward in such a way that they can be heard in society. In this respect, it is no coincidence that the formulation of human and fundamental rights for children and for people with disabilities, due to the fact that they are traditionally not taken seriously as dialogue participants, took place very late in history.

Advocacy of including the experiences and perspectives of the 'persons concerned' in the societal discourse: It belongs definitely to the political dimension of the charitable practice to contribute to the societal discourse and political processes the 'lamentations', experiences, perspectives, desires and aspirations of disadvantaged people perceived in the dialogic diaconia. In many problem situations it is necessary to advocate for the person concerned, i.e. 'to give her/him a voice'. However, one should seek to enable them to express themselves, both by individually empowering them and by creating the structures for appropriate communication places. Also the Church's dialogue process should actually be a place where disadvantaged people can articulate directly their views or where this is done by their 'representatives'.

No exploitation of the dialogue: For several years governmental policy has been pressing social and nursing services into the role of competitive 'quasi-firms'. They are to assert themselves by means of professional marketing methods in the social market. There is, in principle, no objection to a target group-oriented communication, even for the purpose of "marketing" one's own offers.

But it would be problematic to mix up the dialogue of social workers or nurses with (potential) clients or patients with the intransparent purpose of selling: if, instead of ascertaining in the dialogue the needs and offers, one conducts a 'customer dialogue' which in reality aims only at sale-promoting by means of persuading and encouraging.



Another kind of exploitation of the dialogue in charitable work would be equally problematic:

Despite the readiness to 'bear witness', it "cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. ... Those who practise charity in the Church's name will never seek to impose the Church's faith upon others." {25}


Dialogic Diaconia as 'Communication from both Sides'

An essential part of the dialogue is the above mentioned willingness to listen to the person concerned, to be irritated, enriched, and in some cases even changed by her/him. A true dialogue is therefore already 'love', if one understands it with Ignatius of Loyola as 'communication from both sides'.

Also those who in the field of charity conduct dialogues and the Church, which fulfils her mission by dialogue and diaconia, must be willing to listen to the so-called 'persons concerned': to be irritated and taught by the underprivileged, to be strengthened by the supposedly 'weak', and to be enriched in some respects by the poor.

A dialogue within the Church about diaconia (as in the aforementioned dialogue process) were those people who are the target group of charity would remain absolutely silent would therefore be neither a dialogue nor diaconia.



{1} In accordance to the basic performances of the Church (diaconia, liturgy, martyria), the German Bishops' Conference has defined the following 'annual topics' for the in 2011 launched 'conversation process': "Im Heute glauben Wo stehen wir?" (2011); "Diakonia: Unsere Verantwortung in der freien Gesellschaft" (2012); "Liturgia: Die Verehrung Gottes heute" (2013); "Martyria: Den Glauben bezeugen in der Welt von heute" (2014); "Im Heute glauben: Wo Gott ist, da ist Zukunft" (2015).

{2} The process is admittedly officially called "conversation process". In the official texts about this conversation process, the term 'dialogue' is nevertheless repeatedly mentioned positively as a requirement. On the other hand, it is picked up and criticized by the representatives of an authoritarian and monological understanding of communication within the Church.

{3} About the term 'exclusion' as prerequisite for an appropriate perception of phenomena and for a successful dialogue see A. Lindseth, Von der Methode der philosophischen Praxis als dialogische Beratung, in: Methoden philosophischer Praxis, edited by D. Staude (Bielefeld, 2010) 85: If we want to discover the essential meaning of the phenomena, we have to set the given views and opinions about the phenomenon in parentheses when we start. We must refrain from using them. Instead of "encountering the other person with our prior knowledge, we take in what he expresses. We allow that the expression ... affects us unprotected, without resorting to a field of knowledge where we can feel safe. We do not reject these areas of knowledge, but we do without their protection during our immediate encounter."



{4} See the suggestion of Pope Paul VI in the encyclica "Ecclesiam Suam" No. 81/2 that authority cannot simply be ascribed to one of the participants of the dialogue but is inherent to the dialogue, "What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth" (quoted from Gesprächsforum "Im Heute glauben" of 8 to 9 Juli 2011 in Mannheim, Welcome and Introduction by the Chairman of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Dr. Robert Zollitsch:

{5} See K. Rahner, Vom Dialog in der Kirche, in this journal 179 (1967) 81-95; in: the same, complete works, volume 24/1 (Freiburg 2011) 49-63.

{6} About the meaning of the proper readiness to be impressed by the expression of the other person, see Lindseth (note 3).

{7} Already Adam Smith elucidates in his major work on moral philosophy "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" of 1759 the meaning of imagination as "moral imagination": it does not mean a nonreflective 'identification' and is necessary for a true understanding and also for the forming of moral judgements.

{8} G. Fuchs, Ein Anfang: Der Dialog, in: CiG 63 (2011) 317 f.

{9} Paul VI (note 4) in the same place: "It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness. ... It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity."

{10} About the wounding power of language, see: Verletzende Worte. Die Grammatik sprachlicher Mißachtung, edited by S. Krämer (Bielefeld 2007).

{11} Paul VI (note 4) in the same place: "it (the dialogue) avoids peremptory language, makes no demands."

{12} H. Kleve, Luhmann oder: die zwei Dialoge, in: Soziale Arbeit im Dialog gestalten, edited by H. U. Krause and R. Rätz-Heinisch (Opladen 2009).

{13} About the meaning of the term 'dialogue' in the documents of the Second Vatican Councils see E. Schockenhoff, Sprechen heißt Zuhören, in: CiG 63 (2011) 233 f.

{14} Of course, also 'one-sided talking', as e.g. in teaching and preaching or in the administration of the sacraments has to consider actively the horizon of understanding of the listeners, when it wants to be heard and to be effective. However, this effort to talk, explain, and communicate in a target group-oriented way is important, although it is no true dialogue.

{15} Rahner (note 5) 95, note 20 (SW 24/1, 63, note 20).

{16} In the same place 82 (SW 24/1, 50.

{17} The term 'take sb. into one's care' means an intensified form of a careful, gentle and caring dealing with the other person and with one's power over her/him. Even if the word suggests it, it needn't be (mis)understood as a benevolent, paternalistic incapacitation.

{18} About the term diaconia in Levinas' work see H. Haslinger, Diakonie. Grundlagen für die soziale Arbeit der Kirche (Paderborn 2009) 209 ff.

{19} E. Levinas, Ethique et infini. Dialogues avec Philippe Nemo (Paris 1982).

{20} Haslinger (note 18) 21.

{21} About the linkage of the dialogic attitude with professionalism in social work, see the contributions in: Soziale Arbeit im Dialog gestalten (note 12).

{22} Haslinger (note 18) 220 ff. Above all the Old Testament, whose importance for the groundwork of diaconia is often underestimated, shows that lamenting is "a fundamental self-articulation" of human beings. It has to be appreciated and made possible.

{23} In the same place 221.

{24} In the work with disabled people, the so-called 'easy language' makes it possible to conduct a dialogue and to communicate also about complex issues. For information about this see

{25} Benedikt XVI, Deus Caritas Est, No. 31c (VApSt 171, Bonn 2006, 47).


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