This week I am aware of the language people use in meetings. The little words, not the larger meaning, the political agenda or the summaries.
What are the little words?
The one's you'd delete if writing a meeting summary...these are the words I find interesting.
Yesterday at the Holocaust Museum I joined a discussion on French anti-Semitic legislation 1938-41.
At the end of the lecture, the floor was open to ask questions.
The room was 60% female and roughly 60% of the questions asked were from women. So this was "normal."
What struck me was every time a woman asked a question, myself included, they (we) somehow either apologized for asking a question, speaking too long, or discussing something not directly related.
The men never did this. And I thought about the fact that they rarely do. I am often impressed by how comfortable men can be going on and on in a discussion whereas women often cut themselves off and apologize for taking the stage.
Now Deborah Tannen has some great essays about this.
I started this blog to increase awareness around the words we use in relation to conflict.
Last year, British Scholar Vivienne Jabri visited the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She says the violence we see in our world is just an expression of the violence embedded in our discourse.
In other words, it's in our words. Some people speak violently, think violently and then are surprised by violent outbreaks. They are really just demonstrations of what exists daily in the world around us.
I've intuitively felt that for years. How can the violence on the news, in video games and our language not impact our lives?
Jabri has the courage as a scholar to stand up and say, until we face the violence in our discourse we will never see it disappear in our lives. This website and blog is working towards that end.
Today's blog with "face" that challenge by talking about the face...or, rather, the nose.
This past week a friend told me about some car related expense, "it was terrible I had to pay through the nose to get it fixed"
Hmm. I stopped her and asked, "where do you think that expression came from?"
I thought a second and said, "it must be violent. I bet hundreds of years ago in Europe they cut off your nose if you didn't pay."
We looked it up and sure enough, that seems to be the most likely origin.
The origin seems to have been lost, but the most likely origin in circulation refers to 17th Century Denmark where non tax payers had their noses cut. Others seem to suggest there is some 'punching in the face' when payment has not been received (we've seen this in Mafia and gambling movies).
Below, the Oxford English Dictionary does not look violent until 1953. So, I suspect it had to do with getting beaten up or slashed in the face. I'm always on the lookout for violence in our language. Not to promote censorship, but to raise awareness of the kind of culture we are creating. What comes out of our mouth, not just our nose, could make a difference.
(Oxford English Dictionary's etymology)
1666 G. Torriano Piazza Universale 242/2 Oft-times rich men engrossing commodities, will make one pay through the nose, whereas they might sell the cheaper.
1672 A. Marvell Rehearsal Transpros'd i. 270 Made them pay for it most unconscionably and through the Nose.
1782 F. Burney Cecilia V. x. vi. 287 She knows nothing of business, and is made to pay for every thing through the nose.
1809 B. H. Malkin tr. A. R. Le Sage Adventures Gil Blas I. i. ii. 27 But paying through the nose was not the worst of it.
1893 S. Baring-Gould Cheap Jack Zita I. ix. 136 Something for which the public had that day paid, and paid through its nose.
1953 H. Clevely Public Enemy xvii. 105 You're goin' to pay through the nose, an' you're goin' to go on payin'.
1988 Football Today Nov. 45/1 Crowds..are..prepared to pay, often through the nose, to stand on cold concrete throughout the misery of a British winter to watch their team play.
The fun with studying the "language of conflict" is that you can complicate almost every word.
Today, I'm talking about "empathy"
This past week, Marcus Bullock came to the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) to discuss why "empathy" can be a difficult word for conflict resolution. Below are a summary of his comments and the discussion following the lecture.
1. He took us through the etymology of the word. It doesn't exist in many languages.
2. Empathy is a speech act. We 'show' people we are empathetic in a way that says, "look at me, I am a good person, I empathize with you"
There is perhaps a touch of megalomania.
3. Empathy, as a value in conflict, moves us towards a consensus model.
Sara Cobb (of S-CAR) and others are concerned about "consensus" as a conflict resolution model. The idea is to create better-formed stories and make sure marginalized voices are heard. The goal is to enrich the "narrative ecology" of a space rather than find all the "common points of agreement." This model does not seek sameness. Difference needs to be allowed and elaborated where it exists.
The value of empathy- suggests that we all "could" or "should' understand another's experience, rather than just letting it be their experience.
For example, I can never really empathize with a woman who lost her family in Rwanda. To say I do could be seen as arrogant and patronizing. I cannot. And it positions her as someone "I get" -- I do not need to empathize with her for her to have legitimacy -- for her to have a right to her story. For her to be worthy of dignity, rights, etc.
4. Empathy can be used politically-- For example, can the Senators really "empathize" with the working class people who were really hurt by this shutdown? Do they really know what kind of stress it added to their lives, marriages, and bodies?
It may depend on their upbringing. Were they ever poor? black? Hispanic?
In sum, the question empathy raises is whether we can ever really know another's experience? We need to be able to support and allow for Others to have their experience whether or not we understand it. Empathy suggests a kind knowing that can sometimes be patronizing.
Just something to ponder....
Yesterday a colleague asked me to explain how a narrative approach to conflict differs from a more positivist approach.
This is the answer I gave her and I thought it might be of interest to others interested in how stories related to conflict.
Almost two weeks ago now, I was learning a new turn in my Lindy Hop class. I thought I had it, but somehow on the 20th try, I got confused and landed on my ankle. I hollered and collapsed on the floor. I was out of my mind with pain.
A positivist approach to the "conflict" resembles an allopathic approach.
Allopathic approaches (modern Western medicine) and positivism (in conflict) would look right at the foot. And, it was hard not to look at the foot..it was large and blue.
I went to Urgent Care. They looked at the foot, touched the foot, x-rayed the foot, asked me to talk about the foot, and put the foot in the cast you see to the left.
Makes sense. Foot hurts, look at the foot.
Two days later, I went to a Chinese Medicine doctor: acupuncture works very well to reduce swelling. This doctor did not even look at my foot. She said when the wound is "acute" you cannot work right on it.
She showed me how my opposite hand was swollen as a result of my foot. So she put 5 needles in my hand and left the room.
This might be a considered more holistic approach to conflict resolution. It looks at the whole body, not just the area in distress.
So where does narrative fit into all of this? How do stories figure into a sprained ankle? A narrative approach might look at the stories I had running at the time I fell, maybe even the week before, and especially the ones I have running now.
Let's keep this simple and just focus on the stories I had after the fall.
I knew from my work on narrative and psychology, the meaning I start ascribing at the moment of the fall and in the coming days would impact how quickly I recovered and how content I felt during the recovery.
For example, as soon as I fell, my mind started racing to all of the ways this was going to screw up my fall. I thought "oh, shit, I'll be out of commission for months. I might have to get surgery. It might be ruined forever." Quickly, knowing the power of meaning making, I shut down these thoughts.
I knew if I started telling the story that this "conflict" was going to ruin my autumn season and forever ruin my ankle, then it might.
That was not a future that I was interested in living. So, I used my understanding of narrative to construct a story that would help me heal quickly and, even possibly, enjoy the process. In other words, I did a "narrative intervention" on myself.
Instead of talking about all the ways in which being on crutches was massively inconvenient. I decided to tell a different story to myself and others.
My new story:
"This has oddly been a gift. I am more present, slower, I even am reading better. I am more focused in my work and less distracted by all the shiny objects that surround me. I am learning what it is like to be disabled. This helps me appreciate all the wonderful ways in which DC accommodates disability. I am learning compassion for people for whom mobility is their daily focus. I wave at others on crutches (or, nod, actually since my hands are not free). I am amazed at the kindness of others and feel more patient with myself in many areas in my life."
In narrative we call this "a better formed story."
Deciding to tell a story of "this accident has something to teach me and I am going to find the gifts" instead of "This is really frustrating and this will be a long slow recovery," has made the past two weeks an incredible journey. Though of course I look forward to running again, driving my car and getting my haircut. and not being afraid of the escalator.
But by adding a narrative approach to the allopathic and holistic approaches, I staved off an emotional handicap that such an injury can create. Narrative approaches can help people find agency. Allopathic and positivist approaches talk about the problem and different solutions. They work well together.
A note here that most analogies fall short when pushed too far. This might be such an example of going too far.
I just wanted to highlight the difference between an approach that focuses on "fixing the foot," seeing the foot as separate from my whole self, and one that places me, my soul, in the center. Narrative understands how we create meaning and the impact the meanings we assign can have on our lives. I will listen to the doctor and then decide for myself how that information will affect my story and therefore, my life.
More to come on how to apply this to larger conflicts.....
A wise colleague posted on Facebook a quote that claimed something to the effect, “there is no peace without justice.” I’ve seen that phrase so many times, I barely noticed or questioned it. But today I did. Probably because of this sprained ankle. I’m slower and have more time to sit around and consider my resonance with profound-sounding postings.
I cannot say for sure if my colleague’s claim “there is no peace without justice” is true in regards to global conflict, but I’m absolutely sure it is not true in relation to my personal life. In fact, I’ve found that I can achieve peace without the apology and without the wrongdoer getting their “due.” In fact I have had do; I suspect you all have had to as well.
Of all the injustices you have experienced how much have you received in terms of reparations? How many “mia culpas”? I suspect a small number. Maybe of the 1000 injustices you perceived, you received 10 sincere apologies and maybe a couple people took you out to dinner to make amends. In spite of this small “infraction to justice” ratio, do you walk around in a state of rage all the time? I suspect not. Not most of you anyway.
You have had moments of peace, no? I’ve been able to find peace even in midst of the deepest sadness and strongest rage, sometimes it feels like just the eye in the storm, but it’s there. Frankly, the body just seems unable to hold grief and anger for very long before it wants a change of tune. For example, I may be walking along yapping (in my head) about this or that injustice until a flower catches my eye. I look at the flower; it’s beautiful. I take a deep breath. I feel peaceful.
Has justice been served? Well, I’m not sure anything happened to “my perpetrator” in that moment. No trial occurred, no sanctions issued, no apology received and yet I found peace. A moment for sure…but a moment is enough to build upon. So, no, I don’t think we need justice for peace in our personal lives.
Again, I cannot how this applies to atrocity-level wrongs, such as genocide and torture. Or what the implications would be for justice. But I know for myself, if I waited for justice until I felt peace, I’d probably end up looing like the Dickens’ Mrs. Haversham seated above.