Archive for ‘Listening’

February 16, 2011

5…Minds Not Made Up

We’ve been talking to lots of people these days, lots of people with lots of ideas and opinions and talents… and uncertainties and fears and ineptitudes, too. Lots of people have something to say and know how to say it. Lots of people have something to say but aren’t sure how to express it. And lots and lots of people won’t easily open their mouths to speak unless they feel they can speak with some degree of authority on the subject.

We’ve been thinking a lot about how to best facilitate conversations that are really productive but not instrumental, respectful but not PC, safe but not boring, provocative but not inflammatory. We’re now of the opinion that one way to go about nurturing such a space is to ask people to come to the discussion or the workshop or the party without their minds made up. This single all-encompassing rule can speak to all those latent desires (to know and show oneself knowing, to have principles that stand the test of time, to be heard, to be understood, to be looked up to) that tend to manifest themselves as conversation-killers. What is a dead conversation if not a stagnant discussion in which the rigidities of minds made up have occasioned still ponds (lifeless, anaerobic, idle) instead of flowing waterways (always moving, always circulating, always refreshing)? Even though this analogy can only take us so far, since even anaerobic activity is ultimately transformative and creative, we think you get the picture.

Like the Oracle of Delphi and its two entrance inscriptions, “know thyself” and “nothing in excess” (a/k/a “everything in moderation”), the line “minds not made up” shall be unwritten above the entrance to every Wayward event. Think of our adage as the unwritten inscription, compounding the Oracle’s two inscriptions to read: know oneself in moderation.

We read the relation between the two inscriptions as such: the assurances of a made up mind must be tempered by the moderating effect of the community of others; the introspective act of making one’s mind up about oneself can only ever be but a training ground for the arena of dialogue, discussion and disagreement that one enters into with others; the shared cosmos and assembly of people, place and things (the political dance of nouns) is best composed under conditions of moderation wherein minorities are not excluded from participation with the many, and neither do a select few rule over the multitude.

Having one’s mind made up, is like selective reading: passing over the persons, places and things with whom or with which one cannot find common ground (without looking a little harder); immoderately reading the social terrain for its most comfortable passages (wearing those trails thin with obsessive movement); seeking allies in friends (but never in adversaries). And those things won’t get us anywhere, so come with minds not made up and we’ll see where that takes us for a change.

Liberty and Learning

February 1, 2011

7…Worlds Beyond Words

The real and the ideal comingle every dayWords are like pointers, signposts that direct us to places. In other words, words aren’t things in themselves. Fair enough, but hey, talking never hurt nobody, right? Ok, this last part is arguable, because as the revisionist saying goes: Sticks and stones may break bones but words hurt worse than anything.

Speaking out against something that is doing harm can be a powerful defence against the word-wielding bullies in this world. Dialogue is crucial to democratic notions of equal representation. Words that become laws have the power to giveth and to taketh. Words work. And we can make words work for us.

We need to make sure to stay in the conversation, even when it flags or seems boring or irrelevant or overwhelming. No matter the variety of conversation—be it the passing “how do you do?”, or the more polarized referendums that call for “yes” or “no” votes, or commiserating about job markets and the high cost of living, or staying in touch with distant friends, or neighbourly chats over the fence, or passionate shouting matches about high stakes situations—what matters is the part where we listen to what’s being said and respond with sincerity about our own experiences.

Telling someone what you think they want to hear shouldn’t count as conversation. (You are then too far beyond their world, into what you imagine the other wants.) Saying whatever you can think of to make the other person stop talking to you because you’d rather be talking to someone else doesn’t count either. And listening only long enough to be polite while you wait for an opportunity to speak is essentially a one-sided conversation, which means you are not at all conversant with the fine art of conversation, which requires an exchange of ideas, not solely the broadcast nor reception. (You are now too far beyond their word if you place your yet-to-be-expressed word before theirs in your mind.)

Conversation is a two-way street, and so speaking up and out with any kind of sympathy requires a good deal of listening. Conversations that are one-way streets make faulty democracies. Two-way streets carry the necessary risk of collision, and keep us alert and on our toes as we navigate their complexity. Come to think, conversations can just as easily be multi-way streets, and cacophonous as that may be, it can also be fruitful.

On that note…thinking, making, speaking, doing…wayward exchanges between thoughts and actions, words and behaviours, are what make up the wayward worlds we inhabit. They don’t sit still, they are verbose mutations of ideas that came before. Thank goodness if we can still feel that we have a say in what is to come.

beyond word and world + politics =

conversation that is beyond speech (it is composed of actions and doings)

and at the same time

conversation that is beyond the “real” world (it pontificates about the ideal society)

Being beyond wor(l)ds in politics is perhaps the truest form of democratic process (an admixture of actions and words…forget about voting with dollars, we really vote with behaviours). Take for instance the indescribable pattern on your city…think of it as an emergent property of the negotiation between municipality, commerce, community, and the material substances of the earth it is all writ with and upon…think of its landscape of difference and the impossible account of its amalgamation in the written word.

Heterotopia means a multiplicity of place; heteroglossia means a multiplicity of words. If one were to take the two together, they would form a kind of matrix where difference and multiplicity of place and name are woven together – real with ideal, empirical with imagined….that generative matrix is always and ever beyond wor(l)ds because it is not word (ideal), it is not world (real), but both and between. A productive place where we re-make meaningful worlds to take up residence within.

January 21, 2011

8…Gestural Linguistics

Antiquated Sign Language AlphabetUse your words. Talk with your hands. Talk to the hand. Let me hear your body talk. Words cannot describe. More than words can say. Take my breath away. Leave me speechless.

A word is a gesture, a thought-form in the ether, a movement between minds. A physical vibration in the throat, writhing through the thick conductive air, exciting the fluids in the ear canal of an other to reverberate. Sound becomes signal, becomes sign, through the hand-holding efforts of neurons, axons, synapses and dendrites…to name but a few. A word takes many physical forms and collaborative efforts to become conceptual.

One picture says a thousand words, and the language our bodies make speaks volumes. Non-verbal communication is the dominant mode, if not the hegemonic (i.e. preferred one).

Countless conversations buzz and vibrate and gesticulate in us and around us every moment of every day…we tap in to but a few. Many thousands of informative, but ultimately useless, messages bombard us, in excess of the signals and cues we actually need to make it through any given day, vying for our consumptive attention with diminishing returns. It’s easy for judgement to get clouded in such a blitzkrieg.

But think about the pleasure of comfortable silence between friends, and how much that means. Think about the wordless glance across the room with a potential love (or a sworn enemy), and how much that means. Think about the way bees wiggle and dance for one another, and how much that means. Think about the chatter of birdsong, and/or the lack thereof, and how much that means. Think about the aroma of fermenting fruit, and how much that means. Think about the smell of burnt toast, and how much that (might!) mean. Think about the touch of another’s hand on your forehead, your shoulder, your hip, and all the different things each can mean.

We inhabit worlds beyond words, populated by signals not signs. Electromagnetic, elemental, audible, aromatic, chemical transmissions between animate and inanimate forms, themselves comprised of cacophonous arrangements of sensory perceptions, of sending/receiving animate and inanimate forms.

We have all sorts of ways to describe the act of communicating without words, but very few spring to mind to describe the ability to “listen” to wordless things. (Intuition or sixth senses don’t nearly cover it.) How might we more readily acknowledge and appreciate in our everyday experience that which is outside of verbal expression? In other words, how might we place more trust in and show more respect towards the whole of the sensible world and the myriad ways it informs our everyday experience?

Let’s talk about it…and let’s think about it, make things about it and do it, too.