“A word after a word after a word is power”: Margaret Attwood unleashes oppressive silences by underlining the vitality of speaking up in her acclaimed quote. Words empower, words reverberate, words heal. What is emphasized here is the resonance of the “word”: the word in its verbal dimension of speaking and in its audible sense of listening. Listening and not hearing and particularly active listening, as it is indicative of a dynamic process, a process of engagement with what is being said, a process of acceptance and of empathy, a process devoid of prejudice and ultimately a process where conflicts will wither away.
Marshall Rosenberg, when laying down the foundations of Non-Violent Communication, pertinently highlighted that: “Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need”. We are prone to boxing and framing people based on our perception and not theirs, we tend to be ethnocentric and fall into the trap of labelling and stigmatizing the “Other”. Chronic exposure to stigmatization may lead “stigmatized” individuals to disidentify with the work place environment and to disengage from their professional duties and obligations. It may hinder self-control, receptivity to feedback and fog sound judgements, diminish career aspirations and motivation.
Stigmas that are marks of social disgrace and spoiled social identity might trigger “spill overs” and entrap people into an unhealthy cycle of physiological arousals that might provoke psychosomatic disorders and prompt health related concerns. “Voices” once heard, will open avenues of deep understanding, of “verstehen” as per Max Weber’s expression. This empathetic state of putting yourself in the shoes of others without picking up their blisters fits perfectly into the rationale of the “Voices Project”.
Prejudice, discrimination and stereotype predominantly come from lack of knowledge and lack of exposure to people and ways of life that are different from one’s background. They result from exposure through media outlets and through peers and family members to preconceived ideas about others without filtering accurate from inaccurate information that might build walls of toxic misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
When putting the whole lot into one bucket and not differentiating among individuals that belong to the same group, when we oversimplify and generalize and hold a fixed image about a person irrespective of its accuracy, we tend to erase or discard that “individuating information”that renders each person a unique entity. By being exposed to the “Voices” of the “Other”, negative labelling and stereotyping’s detrimental effects will be annihilated, acceptance of diversity will become the norm.
The “storytelling” dimension of the “Voices Project” opens up a culture of dialogue in which not only work productivity is enhanced, but also where conflicts will be peacefully resolved. Jacques Salomé sums it up beautifully in his potent expression “Le Tu qui Tue”, the “You that kills”. Pointing fingers at the Other exacerbates conflicts and widens the gap on the interpersonal communication level. “You statements" make people feel defensive. By listening to the stories of others and engaging in the “Voices Project”, you will trigger a shift in the way you address others, you will start avoiding "You" accusatory statements and revert to statements that begin with the word "I". “I” Messages explain your own concerns, needs and basic goals and will initiate the active listening process.
As per Ervin Goffman’s dramaturgical approach, life is similar to a stage, a metaphor that represents society and how we navigate through it in ways to be accepted and integrated. We wear a panoply of masks throughout our lives and in our daily interactions. What is visible to the outsider are only filtered layers of one’s personality and characters. We juggle with so many layers of ourselves and we only allow the “front stage self” to transpire to the surface. When we are off stage, the “back stage self” is relaxed, freed from societal gaze. It reveals who we really are, away from the “impression management” that we have to grapple with. The Voices Project will unveil the mask(s) and will unleash the true You!
Along the same dramaturgical lines, let’s ponder on the lyrics of one of the most renown Queen’s song “The Show Must Go On”.
(…) Behind the curtain, in the pantomime
Hold the line
Does anybody want to take it anymore?
The show must go on
The show must go on, yeah
Inside my heart is breaking
My makeup may be flaking
But my smile, still, stays on (…)
Freddie Mercury was telling his story, a story of enduring suffering and pain, a shoutout for resilience and persistence. Each one of us, has behind their curtain a story, a tear and a smile. Let’s listen to them…
Remember, relationships are fostered and dialogue is empowered when words are used differently and actively listened to!