Friday, October 09, 2015

Overcoming Barbs (with Sindile)

I haven't met Sindile in person yet, but I engage with him regularly. A mutual friend, Rich, introduced me to Brett with a 'Trev meet Brett, Brett meet Trev' email. A few minutes later we were 'friends'. Sindile gets stuck into the comments section with Rich and Brett, and so after a few to and fros, we ended up connecting. This is where I hope Social Media ends up heading. The 'Chat rooms' of old didn't make it, partly because people get weird when they are anonymous. People still seem weird when we know who they are (Road Rage meets Mobile Rage), but I think we are learning to communicate in public. Old Media dictated what we spoke about. Now we get to choose. If Social Media is rubbish, it is our fault. If the content doesn't have substance, it is our fault. Moan or do something. In a better world, we can have 'friends' all over the world. When you go visit, you needn't be a tourist, you can already have connected with ideas. Then you can add the magic of a shared meal and 'friends' can become friends. Sindile and I had a chat...

Trev:
We've clashed once before. You ranted (justifiably) about an issue and I responded poorly. Poorly, not in the sense that a detached, rational, observer would respond differently. Poorly, in that I am not that. I am incredibly privileged. I also happen to like having ideas, and expressing them. I don't know how to reconcile the two. My current best guess is to shut up. Listen. Carry on talking, but know my place. The Utopian in me wishes I didn't have a place. The completely selfish, objective me, figures actually my place is one of the best to have.

Sindile:
I'm not necessarily sure the clash has to fundamentally or intrinsically have to be about privilege. I think it is something very deep within the human condition; the need to one up and lord something over another person, whether that is resources or knowledge or belonging to some secret special club. Whenever that is challenged the obvious human reaction is to hit out. I, for example, had the same reaction you did when challenged about a particular sphere in which I hold a privilege. For me, it is about my ability to fine tune my understanding of where people are coming from when they say stuff. Shutting up is not an option.

Trev:
My take home was to be more conscious of not 'making the issue about me'. I suspect whenever someone gets passionate about an issue, they don't just make one point. They make lots. I think we all tend to respond to 'barbs' when someone speaks. The barb might be a minor, nuanced, off-topic pet peeve we have. Normally something that turns the argument into something that matters to us. This can miss the point. If I agree with 95% of what you are saying, the nuance might not be worth mentioning.

Trying to have conversations without being caught on Barbed Wire

Sindile:
I agree, however I am not sure we must leave out the nuance. As the saying goes, 'the devil is in the details'. I believe in having as much clarity as possible (that may be my communications background talking). It seems to me that much of the most contentious issues have to do with the 5%. That said, social media isn't the best place for explaining nuance, simply because faux outrage is a thing. I think nuance is usually better left for friends and settings where people are actively discussing something.

Trev:
Yes, there is definitely flavour as well as devilry in the detail. Two strategies I have been trying on social media is to keep comments short (It is easier to get agreement point by point), and to take a Theatre Sport approach and look to build/tweak areas of agreement rather than jump straight to something that irks me. Person to person contact does have the advantage of some sort of trust. I think you can only really get to the juicy stuff when you have a buffer of good stuff you have built up. When you agree on the core. Then tweak.

Sindile:
I think we must also learn to say things in a way that invites people into a space of learning. The problem with much of what happens in the world methinks is not necessarily that people don't know stuff, but that they frame things incorrectly. As far as possible, whether in speech or on social media, we must be mindful of our audience and their prejudices etc. (what in Communications is called static, and what can fundamentally affect how a message from a sender is received). The art of persuasion (of guile) must never be lost on us.

Trev:
There is an art to conversation. Like the art of letter writing. Or dancing. Sometimes we focus so much on 'the thing' we want to talk about, that any opportunity to engage becomes an opportunity to bring our stuff to the table. So when listening, we aren't genuinely attempting to understand, we are waiting for a chance to bring our pet project to the discussion. Reading about consensus building, one of the regular reminders is to bring engagement back to the 'why'. If there isn't a common thread, we all wander off to our particular choice of poison.

Sindile:
Indeed. Something though I do think what blocks consensus is that one or both (all) parties succumb to that age old sin of pride. Sometimes people simply do not want to listen, sometimes people who are in privilege, whether it is white people or men or straight people, simply do not have any or enough self-interest in the status quo being challenged. I, for one, was intensely put off by the faeces smearing at UCT, but then I thought, these students (like those in Stellenbosch) had tried in vain to reason with those in power, with privilege simply refusing to listen, and so now I look on those actions a lot more sympathetically simply because they achieve their desired result. Should such an approach be a blueprint? No, but there are instances for drastic and demonstrative ways to get people's attention.

Rhodes Fell (source: IOL)

Trev:
Yes, it is hard to 'put aside the Faeces' and focus on the content. By the time it has got to that stage, you are probably going to struggle. There has to be a reason to come together. It is very hard to have a productive conversation when the quarrel is not a 'lover's quarrel'. Like watching stand-up comedy, the audience have to want to laugh. Lovers typically want to make up. If there isn't a core desire, the chance that people are going to listen is squat. Once you have got attention, the question is then to think what is the most productive next step. The challenge from a privileged position is not being the one to 'offer a solution'. Accepting that it is someone else's turn.

Sindile:
That is very true. Accepting that it is someone else's turn is very difficult when we've gotten accustomed to our privileged position. None of us like being wrong about something, especially about things as big as racism, or sexism, or homophobia, because it does hurt our pride is some sense to be wrong. To have our privilege and our tacit acceptance of our supremacy shown to be an illusion. Humility may be the most needed virtue in our time. Real Humility. Not that faux-snivelling nonsense humility you always see on Facebook and in daily life, but the genuine kind that leads to honesty, openness and a willingness to change graciously.
Post a Comment