Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Speaking to the crowd

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Speaking to the crowd

Monday, October 24, 2011

One of the most fascinating things about the Occupy movement is the method it has developed to communicate with large crowds without using microphones. Since most of the spaces occupied (Occupy-ed?) are in the middle of business and/or residential neighborhoods and since permits are usually needed for sound amplification, care has been taken to keep the volume down, literally and figuratively.

So how do you speak without amplification to a crowd that stretches beyond the reach of the lone human voice?

Occupy’s stunningly simple answer is a lesson in public conversation. The people nearest the speaker echo his or her words and the people behind them do the same and the people behind them do the same and the words are carried out to the far edges of the crowd by It’s the most ancient and low-tech way imaginable. Effective, too.

I’m wondering about what it feels like to have someone else’s words coming out of your mouth. What does that do to the potential for anger, disagreement, misunderstanding? For concurrence, empathy, acceptance? What if you didn’t agree with them, but still had the responsibility--a basic part of this social contract--to pass them along accurately?

“I hear you” has long been part of our conversational repertoire, but that is a non-committal response that basically says, “Okay, you said it and I stood here and heard it and now we’re done.” And when someone we don’t agree with is speaking, listening doesn’t really describe the situation. What we’re more likely doing is waiting, not too patiently, for a slight pause into which we can inject what we want to say. In its Occupy incarnation, hearing is active. It leads, not to responding, retorting, rebutting, but to repeating. You listen to the words coming to you. And you hear them again, in your own voice, going out beyond you.

What could that kind of listening do to our most banal daily interchanges, not to mention our most heated or heartfelt? (What if we could get them to do that in Congress?) What if this were the great legacy of Occupy: hearing and helping your neighbor hear. Listening and helping your neighbor listen. Feeling the power of someone else’s words in our mouths. Who knows what we might find out about each other? Who knows what we might learn?


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Anonymous Margie Zohn said...

Hi Ellen,

Wonderful post! I think you've really captured something here...reminds me of certain listening exercises where you have to repeat back to the person what they said, not just what you heard them saying. So hard to do in moments of conflict! But what good basic training---to put your voice in service to someone else's thinking. Also, knowing that a bunch of people will have to repeat the words likely makes the communicator mindful of conciseness, preciseness, etc. It's totally worthy of study. Thanks for highlighting it!

October 25, 2011 at 6:18 AM  

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