13 June 2007

Gulf Coast Babble

I was a mostly-silent witness today to a ... well, let's call it a "conversation." A man and a woman talking. A difference of opinion but without anger.

Sometimes they looked right at each other and took turns talking.

Sometimes they looked right at each other and interrupted each other.

Sometimes they made no eye contact and took turns talking.

At times, each of them was long-winded. Most of the time, there was little or no eye contact during long-winded segments; but, over the hour of their exchange, each of them made at least two long speeches, with eye contact.

Now and then, one or the other of them would look at me while still talking to the other. Often this happened when they were saying something funny, making a joke.

Early in the exchange, the man faced me and asked what I thought. Late in the conversation, the woman looked straight at me and asked me to help her make the man understand her point.

The conversation went round and round. They were each trying to convince the other but, judging from their statements, neither had moved from their original standpoint after an hour of talking. Neither had changed their mind. Neither could see It from the other's perspective.


Yesterday I was invited to take training and join the Mississippi Mediation Project. I attended an Essential Problem Solving Skills workshop last month sponsored by the MS Mediation project. The organizer and facilitators were impressed by my facility with and approach to the material. I accepted the invitation.

Conflict resolution interests me. Communication interests me. I'm sure I'll enjoy the training and the idea of doing what I watched the facilitators do last month sounds like something I would enjoy.

Listening to the previously described conversation, I tried to remember techniques from the workshop. I listened to the conversation the same way I read the samples in the workshop handouts and viewed the video skits. Like an anthropologist or psychologist or linguist or playwright.

There is still so much work to be done on the Gulf. Every day I see how poor communication further complicates already frustrating situations. The problem is often due to one or more of the following:

  • People don't know how to put their thoughts into words
  • People don't know how to listen--to themselves or others
  • People are blind to emotional dynamics
  • People talk too much
Right after the storm, things were simpler. People either needed food, water, shelter, transportation, health care or they were offering those things.

Now there are volunteers and developers and politicians and service providers and funders and city planners and environmentalists and crooks and contractors and insurance agents and tourists and activists and more on the ground, milling around, each speaking in their own tongue with their own agenda. People are here from all over the world and from right here. Teenagers and young adults and Boomers and elders.

It's all very intense: whether on fire with a bright new idea or a campaign of hope or service, or profoundly depressed or despairing, nobody's blase down here these days.

It's never been more important to foster and facilitate good communication. I believe we're at another critical turning point in the recovery. I suspect poor communication is a contributing factor in the crime surge in New Orleans. What good are solutions if people don't have adequate communication skills to promote and implement them?

As I left the scene of conversation, the woman made a self-denigrating remark in the form of a question to me. Something like, "Oh I know you must think I'm awful for going on and on and believing...." I said something like "No, I don't think you're an awful person. I think you feel strongly about this and want him to understand your feeling." She said, "Oh, Alex. You are such a great mediator."

I just smiled and said goodnight. We'll see.

1 comment:

  1. I read this and a full-formed vision of you as master mediator jumped into my mind. And you were gently beaming and remembering the time you first noticed that coming to the Gulf had softened something in you. xoxo


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