Presented at the 11/15/2014 Socialist Party L.A. Local Non-Violent Communication Freedom School.
Full disclosure: Although I am presenting today on communication, I am very guilty of communicating using violent communication. A few months ago, I was disrespected by one of my co-workers. I told him I was going to break his teeth if he did not shut the fuck up. So I am here to learn as much as possible, and not here to talk at everyone for too long.
How many people have been misunderstood when presenting an idea?
How many have misunderstood others when they present their idea?
A little over a year ago, I met members of the Socialist Party for the first time when organizing the EcoSocialist conference. It was a very interesting and different experience organizing this event, which I enjoyed very much. One of the main reasons why I felt this way was how the people involved in organizing the event attempted to communicate and work with each other. It was a mixture of people, from different groups or organizations, with a pretty broad perspective of things. Yet, despite differences, we supported each other, and importantly, we reminded each other of being democratic and respectful to all. The purpose of the conference was to get people on the left to speak about climate change, again, in a respectful and inclusive manner, and I think the energy of the conference was the same.
The reason I bring up this conference, is that Mimi and I had one of our first conversations and ended up speaking about what is wrong with the left. I can’t recall all the details of the conversation, but one of the things that stuck out was the lack of being able to communicate our ideas and positions effectively to people who are not in the organized left, or even in the organized left. What do I mean by this? Well, like many of you here, I have been to many organizing meetings and study groups of some form or another, and have seen a lot of ineffective communication (I myself have been a culprit of this!).
Think about it: We come to these organizing spaces to learn, to put in work and to build for a better tomorrow. If we come to these spaces on our free time (which is very limited for some) and we’re not able to speak or listen, it feels shitty and disappointing. We go to work and sometimes live through the same exact thing, but at least there we’re getting paid. Or to put it another way, we are there because the rent needs to get paid.
Some examples of ineffective communication are:
Speaking Over Others / Speaking Out of Turn – When a person is presenting their opinion or idea on the subject at hand, and someone jumps in and interrupts the speaker in order to disagree or challenge their position.
Speaking Over Time – We set time limits in order to give everyone an equal opportunity to be heard. Unfortunately, sometimes a person may go over their own time and may cut out some of the time for more people to be heard. The more you speak, the less you’re giving others a chance.
Being Hypercritical – The definition of hypercritical is: meticulously or excessively critical. Sometimes (and this relates to speaking over time) we can be hypercritical with fellow comrades’ views, opinions, comments, emails, articles, etc. — so hypercritical to the point of causing disruption, divisions, or worse, discouragement, disengagement, and demoralization.
Using Too Much Jargon – Tossing around terms like Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist, Maoist, 3rd Worldism, Vanguard, Democratic Centralism, and other jargon or vocabulary that people new to the left would not understand.
Tom Walker wrote a piece called “Say No to Revolutionary Jargon” for the International Socialist Network. In it he states:
“… we are all committed to building a better, more democratic culture on the left, using this old language makes us sound as though we haven’t changed at all – especially when we use it publicly, to people who don’t know us and are taking our words at face value – with all the connotations they attach to them because of their own experiences on the left. This vocabulary can still sound cynical, manipulative, and to many, frightening. It doesn’t make us sound like the kind of people you’d welcome into your campaign group.“
Some comrades may be new to certain ideas and have not come to certain conclusions or just lack the knowledge of a given subject. By keeping this in mind when we speak, we can better present our ideas. Also, we don’t have to agree on everything 100 percent (except that capitalism sucks).
Talking at People – When someone is not listening but merely waiting for their turn to speak, and then brings up things not relevant to the discussion (like someone bringing up something not pertinent to the current agenda item). Or when someone asks a question, do we really need to give that person a 15-minute history lesson during the meeting or at that moment? (Again, over time!)
Making Assumptions – The definition of assumptions is: taking something for granted, without proof. When someone responds with a disagreement without first asking the person to clarify or examine what they’re saying or doing. If you suspect someone is speaking or acting out of ignorance or maliciousness, instead of coming to a conclusion about them or their position, just ask!!
These are all things I have done to other comrades, and things I still witness in organizing spaces. And because of this, I have learned to ask myself when commenting, presenting an idea, emailing, or messaging: How can I phrase what I’m about to say in a positive and comradely way? Will this have a negative, or a positive effect for what we are trying to build in this space?
So to finish up, I would like to make clear that this does not mean we have to exclude ourselves and comrades of criticism. What this means is we must do so in a productive and comradely manner, free from harsh language, free from assumptions and free from antagonism.
These, after all, are our comrades, and they are the people we are trying to build a new society with. If we hammer on them enough and break them down, what will we achieve? What will we build by doing this?
We are here to demolish capitalism, not each other.