Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Practice How You’ll Play: Lessons from the Era of Neil Armstrong

August 26th, 2012

Dad watched the time as we drove some winding high mountain highway in the Colorado Rockies. He had purchased a black-and-white television that could be powered from the cigarette lighter to bring along just for this trip. As the target time approached, he pulled onto the shoulder, and sent my brother and I to wag down passers-by and invite them to watch the moon walk with us.

Or maybe it was the moon launch. I don’t remember clearly. The picture was grainy, only a few cars drove by and none of the drivers thought it was important to stop. (I can’t recall if there were any passengers; I don’t recall any consultations.) I think we weirded them out. I know that I felt a little embarrassed, what were we doing, this strange behavior out of the norm of everything I’d ever seen?

I was six years old, just trying to grasp what was happening and why it mattered so much.

How did they get the camera there?! That required foresight, pre-planning and imagination: visionary (imagining things in the category of “we don’t know what we don’t know”) and apocalyptic (“things could go bad”). I feel a sense of nostalgia for that kind of epic stage when one of the largest visible masses of people being presented through the media were joined by a common dream – to reach the stars! My tendency is to ignore the other forces that contributed motivation: specifically a military space race based on nationalism. Because Vietnam was happening then (I don’t think my parents were paying attention, or maybe they were studiously avoiding it, I’m not sure. Or they talked about it, but not ever when I was around.)

That kind of scientific endeavor seems like a new form of social organization. Wasn’t it distinguished by  voluntary selection? Meaning, most of the people who worked on the moon project were in fields they had wanted to learn about and contribute to… right? That’s a kind of classic scientific research which seems much less common, these days. When such large-scale works have been done in the past (e.g., the Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, US railway and highway system, etc) the organization has been coercive: I’ll pay you what I want and beat you if you protest.

Isabel suggested today that I am able to be an optimist because I actually “touched” the ’60s. I was born and grew up during that phase of historical economy when the system really was working for nearly everybody.

Not many people, these days, get to be a meaningful part of the machine, the economic engine that drives us to work, tuning for efficiency and exerting rigid controls. This is a major reason why I’ve become so interested in the work of emergency management professionals. First Responders are feeling a sense of urgency, on a large system-scale, that suggests the kind of intensity motivating the US’s original space program. They care about their work. This caring was in constant evidence at a recent pilot training that the DC Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, Serve DC, provided at Gallaudet University. CERT training is required for establishing a Community Emergency Response Team (a CERT). The pilot was earmarked for the Deaf community associated with Gallaudet because, as Dwight Benedict (Dean of Student Affairs and Academic Suppor and a co-chair of Gallaudet’s Crisis Leadership Team) explained during a focus group: “We know if something catastrophic happens in DC the Deaf community is going to come here. They are going to come to Gallaudet just like they went to the Lousiana School for the Deaf when Katrina hit New Orleans. We need to be ready.”

Three focus groups were added to the usual training package in order to explore the ramifications of using simultaneous sign language interpretation within the field of emergency management. The challenges of communicating in two different timestreams were apparent. Frustrations with adapting to the special circumstances of intercultural communication are complicated even more when one of the languages is based in vision and light instead of hearing and sound. These frustrations were more-or-less contained by the focus groups, which allowed each primary stakeholder group (Hearing interlocutors, Deaf interlocutors, and interpreters) the chance to explore their experience and draw comparisons and contrasts internally. Because there was a formal structure for processing the experience, the interpretation itself did not become the main issue of the training – the content of the training material and relationships among Deaf and Hearing interlocutors were able to be the most important dynamics.

One of the instructors, Chief John Sollers, shared with the group how important the experience had been for him, saying that he had learned a lot and that direct interaction with Deaf people using interpreters should be a part of routine training: “We  need to practice how we’ll play.”





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Categories: Call this ACTION LEARNING!, Democracy, Rhetoric and Performance, Interpreting, Language, Learning Resiliency, Reflexivity, Series

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