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Making good dialogue an informed habit.

“Virtue,” he said, “is not just a theoretical knowledge, but a practical one too, as is the case with both medical and musical knowledge. It is necessary, then, just as the doctor and the musician have not each learned only the theory of their discipline but also have been trained to act in accordance with the theory, that the man who is becoming good is also not only learning what lessons take him towards virtue but training in accordance with these lessons through focus and hard work.” (Musonius Rufus, On Practice)

There is an enormous difference between truly knowing the right action to take and taking the right action, and virtue for the Stoics consists of both happening at the same time. The Stoic exercitatio, or practice, seems to have been intended – like most forms of practice – to build up not only strength or capacity for the circumstances faced in human life but also a kind of ethical muscle memory that gets activated in those circumstances. Just as the best athletes, or musicians, or martial arts students learn movements to create specific response pathways to pertinent kinds of stimuli, so to does the moral practitioner “practice” movements of the mind-soul in response to external stimuli. And almost all of Stoic mindfulness practice involves drawing attention away from the unmindful response to the mindful response, away from the unaware reactions to an aware choice of action. This attitude towards the integration of “theory” and “practice” across all our choices and interactions will provoke a profound shift in perspective. For effective dialogue, for example, this means that we must consistently practice good dialogue strategies, such as active listening or mirroring, and that we could even practice it with ourselves. How often do we act without considering how we *really* feel in the moment or what outcome we *really* expect from our actions? A quick look back through email exchanges might leave you wondering …

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