Tag Archives: Communication

Ignore or Silence Dissent At Your Own Peril!

Today I am reposting a blog on dissent – may you stand tall, stay true and speak up.

“Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime.”
Jacob Bronowski

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Dissenters are a real pest, especially in a nice, neat, and controlled environment. When the mantra is to be happy, submissive and comfortable, dissenters, like the prophets of old, upset the royal apple cart. When the power of governments, organisations or institutions, precariously rests on the ‘happiness’ and ‘compliance’ of its subordinates, dissenters are extremely dangerous.

When I talk about dissent, I am referring to an ability to hold a differing opinion to the status quo or to protest an injustice. Please do not mistake dissent for abuse or violence. Also, if you are continually protesting and criticising, it may be wise to take time to reflect and deal with your own shadow, as it may be reflecting back to you in the mirror of others.

The brilliant Socrates provides a rather sorry example of dissent. He stood up to a system that eventually murdered him. His protest was particularly threatening as Athens began to crumble after the bloody wars with Spasocrates4-400x250rta. Athens’ Golden Age was over. Failing empires, terrified at their dwindling power, will do just about anything to silence the voices that they see as threatening. Socrates likened himself to a gadfly sent to keep a lazy and fat thoroughbred horse (the State) alert and awake. His sentiment was not appreciated, and he was put to death. History proves this to be the fate of many dissenters. In the sacred text of the Old Testament, the prophets sat on the margins of power structures and would regularly protest the shenanigans of unjust systems, and, like Socrates, they often found themselves rather dead.

The unpleasant truth is we need dissent. We need to hear the voices of disagreement and criticism. A thriving organisation will see dissent as a duty. Studies have shown that organisations where board members like each other, dine together and discourage open debate, tend to lose financially: Like-minded people, talking only with one another, usually end up believing a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk. If you want a healthy organisation, then you need to invite those who think differently into places where policies are made. You need to work hard to prevent laziness of thought that breeds in comfort, sameness, and familiarity. Avoid a culture that does not allow for questions, doubt, or expressing concerns. Those annoying ‘red flag’ fliers can save your hide. You need to see dissent as an obligation and insist on a wide variety of voices. In dissent lie the keys to health and balance. A contrarian can contribute tremendously by offering a different point of view. Research demonstrates that just knowing there’s a dissenting voice is enough to ‘induce different cognitive processes that yield better judgments.’

When it comes to organised and institutional religion, it becomes very concerning to observe the disdain some religious leaders demonstrate towards dissenters. Even though Protestantism has a rather rich history of dissent (check out the name again!), it seems like in some modern churches today, any form of criticism is seen as being disloyal or unbiblical. The church, just like any other organisation, deserves and needs the same honest critique as any other. And, yes, you can be the Church, love the Church, participate in the Church, and also protest the Church.

So for those who are facing an issue of injustice and find themselves wanting to speak up but feeling threatened, remember the words of the novelist William Faulkner, Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world … would do this, it would change the earth. Remember, we need the voice of dissent, the contrarian in our lives, organisation and world, as painful as it may be. A community that ignores or silences its dissenters is a place that has begun to die a long time ago. Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable and healthiest things you can do this week is to give yourself permission to ungag the voices of dissent in your life?

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Want to Learn about Community? … Listen to the Trees!

“Trees also understand that slowness is the key to a good life. For humans, at the moment, it feels like life is going faster and faster. This way of living uses up so much energy that the quality of our lives doesn’t get better. We should slow down.” 
– Peter Wohlleben – 
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My father has always maintained that Mother Nature is the best teacher. He laments our modern day disconnect from the wild and the sense of ‘lostness’ that so many feel amidst our techno-driven, hyper-real existence. So it was with interest that I read the interview with Peter Wohlleben in the recent Slow Magazine and his study on The Hidden Life of Trees.

Peter’s premise is that trees, like us, experience pain, and form social and family bonds. His years of research have him conclude that different trees have different personalities. Some act as parents and good neighbours, while others are brutal bullies. Trees are anthropomorphic. It is almost as if they have feelings and character. They communicate via a ‘woodwide web’ of chemical and electrical signals. Their young ones takes risks and then learn life lessons from their mistakes. It is like trees form villages, recognising their friends from strangers.

As I fell down the rabbit hole of reading article after article about Wohlleben’s study of the ancient beech forest he manages in the Eifel mountains of Western Germany, I was reminded of my father’s sentiment – Mother Nature is a much better teacher than humans. While we wax lyrical about community and philosophise about life, trees just simply live their ‘philosophy’. No wonder one of the wisest men in ancient text studied the cedars of Lebanon and nature (1 Kings 4:33). Jesus himself suggested that we look at nature to obtain wisdom and meaning (Matthew 6:26).

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Wohlleben points out the communal nature of trees. In a tree community, every member is important, including the ‘weak’ ones:

Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit. Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupt the moist, cool climate. Even strong trees get sick a lot over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbors for support. If they are no longer there, then all it takes is what would once have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of giants.”

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“Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.”

Wohlleben has observed the friendships between trees, some deeper than others. They grow but don’t compete with each other and “if you fell one of those two trees, the other will die too, like an old couple.”

Trees teach us about life and community. In our very important, crazy-busy lives, we seldom notice their quiet and majestic presence. Unlike trees, our ‘developed’ world tends to shove our frail and ‘weaker’ members into places where they are not seen, somewhere on the margins where their presence does not taint our perfect image or require our time and understanding. We build on ideas about community that are quickly dismantled in times of crisis. We betray each other by the disregard we display to these very ideals. The ancient forests teach us that every tree plays a role. Even the oldest, frailest stump is cared for and significant. 

In this Year of Discernment, I have found the learnings about trees astounding and healing. I no longer stare past them as I look out my window. I notice these giant teachers of life. I find hope in their presence. Perhaps one day us humans can become as kind and learn to love our neighbour as these ancient Douglas firs and beeches? 

“A community that is growing rich and seeks only to defend its goods and its reputation is dying. It has ceased to grow in love. A community is alive when it is poor and its members feel they have to work together and remain united, if only to ensure that they can all eat tomorrow!”
– Jean Vanier, Community and Growth – 
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Assumptions: The Noxious Weeds of Relationships

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” 
– Isaac Asimov – 
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The front garden demolition has started. Since moving into this house in November, I have been eyeing the garden beds, overgrown with weeds and noxious plants that have taken the liberty to propagate in the fertile soil. After several months of hectic commuting back and forth from Melbourne, the time has come to get stuck into these green runaways.

As we are pulling out barrow loads of weedy squatters, we began to notice the richness of the soil and the very happy earthworms that call this place home. Under the tangle there are decorative rocks and stepping stones – someone once loved this garden. I had suspected that the ramble of weeds was a sure sign that no one ever bothered to care for the garden, but that was not the truth. I had simply assumed it.

Assumptions are such toxic and interesting brain critters. We all tend to create a narrative that we live by and from which we view the world. This narrative affects our relationships – our families, friendships, and workplace. We assume things of people and often these assumptions can be negative. We jump to conclusions that are not only wrong, but hurtful. We may assume how someone would like to be treated in a certain circumstance, but fail to realise that we are simply processing a situation from our vantage point, assuming that our friend or partner thinks the same.

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Assumptions are a bit like those noxious weeds that I am digging out of my front garden. They take over. They create perceptions that are false and before long the beautiful garden of relationship has been invaded by these uninvited, paranoid guests.

It is so easy to create stories in our heads and assume the worst. Someone does not respond to our text and before long we have a complete seven volume series written in our heads about the drama that has unfolded in their world, what we may have done to upset them, and how we can never trust them again. In the meantime, our friend has dropped her phone into the toilet, her husband has the man-flu, her children are late for school, and someone has blown up their letter box. Assumptions are not helpful.

We can assume things from our dearest and nearest. We can assume that they should know what we are thinking and in turn behave in the appropriate manner like a telepathic teletubby or Martian Manhunter. When they fail to read our minds and, alas, show total disregard to the untold story in our head, we become resentful. We assume they are hurting our feelings on purpose. In the meantime, our partner is wondering what has brought on the storm clouds! So if you do not verbally communicate your feelings or make your requests known, please understand that there is a 0% chance of your partner or family member knowing what you want!

Oh, and then there’s indirect assumptions! For instance, second hand information that sounds so true and reliable, we simply have to buy it hook, line and the darn sinker.  Second hand information is not beneficial. People hear what they want to hear and will re-write and re-tell a story from that perspective. We all have lenses through which we look at the world and all of our lenses are slightly distorted. Learn to be sceptical about things you hear second hand. You can save yourself a lot of trouble and you can save your relationships.

We all have learnt the treacherous trait of assuming, dear friend. It benefits us to regularly put on the garden gloves and do a decent weed through the fertile furrows of our brain and radically clean up our assumptions. It is amazing how good the world looks after such an exercise.

“The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.”
– William of Ockham –
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