The Magic in Dialogue

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I Create As I Speak

 magic-rabbitAbracadabra! That enchanting word a magician utters giving him the power to create seemingly impossible things.

My father has had an interest in magic since he was 8 years old. I have fond memories of him performing various card tricks; pulling an authentic-looking rabbit out of a hat (who my sister and I named Pricilla); discovering a nickel behind my ear; and making things disappear. My childhood included visits to countless magic stores across the country and hearing my father share stories about the world-renowned Magic Castle in Hollywood. Nearly 70 years after he witnessed his first magic show as a young boy, my dad remains passionate about this mystical art. So it was no surprise to me yesterday when he handed to me a printed piece of paper with these words:

Abracadabra is actually a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘I create as I speak.’

When I read this, it really resonated; and I was intrigued on two fronts. Growing up in a family where magic was a constant, it was interesting to learn the true meaning of this incantation. Second, I found myself thinking about Socrates and his “Test of Three”.

Some Abracadabra History

With the help of Wikipedia, I learned that the word Abracadabra originated in the Aramaic language and was believed to have healing powers. In Aramaic, the phrase translates to “I create as I speak.” In the Hebrew language, the phrase translates more accurately to “it came to pass as it was spoken.”

The first known mention of “abracadabra” was in a book in the 3rd century AD. A chapter in this book prescribed to people suffering from malaria that they wear an engraved amulet with the word “abracadabra” written in the form of a triangle. It was believed that the power of the amulet with this inscription would make the malaria go away.

From the Roman emperors to the Gnostics to the Greeks, many believed the word as possessing great power. And stage magicians continue to use it today.

Some Socrates History

Socrates, a classic Greek philosopher, is credited as one of the founders of Western Philosophy. Through dialogues he had with Plato (one of Socrates’ students) which were later put into transcripts by Plato, Socrates become renowned for his contribution to the field of Ethics perhaps the most important of which is known as the Socratic Method – a dialectic method of inquiry to examine moral concepts and one’s own beliefs. Hmmm…sound familiar?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous story of Socrates’ Test of Three (sometimes referred to as the Three Filters). It goes something like this:

One day Socrates came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me, I’d like for you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three.”

“Test of Three?”

“That’s correct,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student, let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man replied, “actually I just heard about it.”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him even though you’re not certain it’s true?” 

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, “You may still pass because there is a third test – the test of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really…”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The moral of the story: Before speaking (and before accepting any information), ask yourself these three questions:

Is it true?

Is it good?

Is it useful?

Putting it All Together

‘I create as I speak’. THIS is the magic in Dialogue.

And in any other human interaction insofar as I’m concerned.

Think about it. What are you creating as you speak?

The use of words are predominantly how we interact with one another. What kind of words do you use to express yourself? What are your beliefs behind those words? Are they valid?

Before communicating with another, do you briefly pause to consider whether you’ve listened to fully understand that person? Do you ask yourself whether it’s your turn to speak? Is what you are going to say true, good and in service?

The process of Dialogue is designed to create opportunities for new understandings — a space where new knowledge can be born. Through active listening, treating people equally, balancing opinions with inquiry and suspending judgement — by speaking honestly, noticing your internal reactions to what others say and examining your own beliefs – and in slowing things down and permitting moments for pause and silence, you are creating an environment where people are in conversation, creating new realities in a way that is meaningful and significant.

Is Dialogue magic? No. In fact, it’s damn hard work. It takes time and doesn’t come to be with the simple wave of a baton.

But…there is magic IN it.

So many years ago…I was a little girl excitedly watching her daddy as he pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a swift wave of his wand and a magical incantation. Little did I know just how profound that word would become…


A special note of acknowledgement to my father, Joseph Samuel, for his wisdom and continuous encouragement to be curious; to my mother, Florence Samuel, from whom I have also learned so much (and who assisted in our “photo shoot”); and to Paul Quaiser, a friend and college who just three months ago so graciously reminded me of The Three Tests.

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