Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Framing the Future: Atlanta 2011

August 10th, 2009

Time and Timing: Preparation is Key

The list of ideas and suggestions offered in the DEAF-FRIENDLY workshop (described in yesterday’s entry) ranged from the general:

  • emphasize the visual
  • always use ASL

to the specific:

  • use an FM Loop to mark off the area where sign-to-voice interpretation will be provided
  • fine people a dollar for speaking instead of signing
  • draw a blue line to mark Signing Zones from Speaking Zones

As I watched, two things came together in my head, one being that we all know what needs to be done. The other was an idea inspired by the way MJ Bienvenu made her points about audism by flipping the subject or object of particular sentences from an identity/logic center based on being “hearing” (not Deaf) to its mirror image presented from a Deaf-centric worldview.
Jimmy & MJ.jpg
I mentioned laziness concerning the ASL Zone on the third day of the conference, and have to confess that the admission did not serve to improve my commitment to only signing. I appreciated the man in the DEAF-FRIENDLY workshop who talked about being naturally drawn to hearing-and-speaking, but I cringed a bit at the guy who used the example of carrying a beverage in one hand and a suitcase in another – as if that is the common instance which Deaf people are concerned by. Not. I rehearsed my reasons for not always signing:

  • I was in Europe and away from ASL for nearly a year,
  • my ideas are often not clear (even to myself, shhh!) until I try to articulate them,
  • spoken English is my native language so I can say what I mean more easily than I can sign what I mean,
  • my eyes get tired and my brain shuts down,
  • etcetera.

No matter how hard I seek to justify them, these are all just excuses for continuing to exercise privilege. Betty Colonomos mentioned the United States being “such a monolingual country.” I agree with her: insisting on spoken English when Deaf people are present is the cultural celebration of English (only). The ease with which we slide into speech, and the raft of rationales we create to protect our own linguistic comfort are indicators of resistance to equality.

But here’s the rub. While many of us knew (or sensed, or learned along the way) that we ought to be signing, the formal marketing of the conference does not make this requirement clear. So what happens is that people arrive with expectations (conscious and latent) that are either contradicted or fulfilled and then they react based on how well the actual interactions “fit” with those expectations (which they may not have even realized were ‘there’ until something triggers them into awareness). Suddenly, disappointment and disapproval become evident, and people are thrust into the position of needing to process the fact that their expectations have somehow/suddenly come into conflict with others’ expectations. Affinity groups form along ideological lines, such as the culturally Deaf and their Allies “versus” the Hearing people whose comfort level in ASL is markedly less than their comfort level in English and their friends. Other identity-based groups usually also solidify around their respective centers, and solo outliers who don’t perceive any place where they belong either observe, reserving their insights for themselves, or choose not to participate at all.
3 planners You GOOD.jpgIn contrast with what I’ve observed (and participated in) previously, these divisions arose rather gently at the end of this conference. I consider this a tribute to two temporal factors: one immediate and one developmental. As frustrated as Deaf people were with the less-than-ideal communication environment, the atmosphere did not become hostile. As defensive as Hearing people were about being called out for speaking instead of signing, they also did not resort to blaming or other forms of reactionary guilt. I suggest that this particular climate was created by President Moose and the Board’s leadership in establishing their own principled protocol to communicate in ASL. As leaders, they set and held the bar in the Here-and-Now.

Stages of Group Development

In human interaction, there are always many things happening at the same time. This is the reason why the most popular answer of interpreter-trainers to the questions, “What would you do?” or “What does it mean?” is: “It depends.” The “it” could hinge on which interlocutor’s perspective you take, which outcome you hope to achieve, the significance of affect in the specific utterance, how this situation fits within the shared history of interlocutors, whether the interlocutors will interact again in the future or not, and so on. The point is simply that no communication ever occurs in a vacuum – every utterance and act of silence is situated in space (here or there) and time (past, present, future).
Imagine RID as a group (of the type called an organization) constituted by criteria distinguishing who is a member and who is not. me getting approval from Ken.jpg Lou Fant explained how the history of the organization shows two clear phases divided by the moment, when membership shifted from cultural insiders and close friends of the Deaf to a larger population requiring acculturation and accommodation. Looked at historically (over the long term), these two phases correspond, roughly, with the first two stages of group development as identified by U.S. and British social science researchers in the 1940s and ’50s. Much later, simple labels were applied as a shorthand way of referring to patterns of behavior and issues evident in each stage:

  • forming (when people come together and begin to get organized as a group), and
  • storming (when the various interests and ambitions of members emerge).

It was helpful for me to realize that I entered the profession (in 1993) well into the era of the storm. And MJ’s experience – arriving on the scene a decade earlier – probably was one of the first public markers that the first forming stage was really over: under other circumstances (a different space) and another time, her interventions would not have generated so much passion on either ‘side.’ As it was, asking for recognition of ASL and, later, for an end to a particular performance took on iconic status as events around which people’s interests became plain (whether they wanted them to be so apparent or not).
A possibility began dancing in my mind as I’ve sought to synthesize ‘all the things going on during the conference week’: specifically, the clash of generations (older-younger), the effects & potentials of communications technology, and what I know about the next stage of group development: norming.
I wonder if we might actually be ready for a paradigm shift . . .

ASL Zone (in decision-making by one and all), Reflexivity
Interview with Dr MJ Bienvenu on Audism, Jehanne’s Vlogs
Betty Colonomos
Group Dynamics, kurt lewin: groups, experiential learning and action research, by infed, the encyclopaedia of informal education
Bion and Experiences in Groups, by Robert M Young
Forming-storming-norming-performing, Wikipedia

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  1. […] a proposal for the 2011 Biennial RID Convention in Atlanta, GA. AKPC_IDS += "14640,";Popularity: 2% […]

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