URLs of wisdom – silencing, story and speaking up edition – March 2018

Having diverse voices able to safely express their input and for it be received respectfully is vital to the functioning of teams, groups and communities – including those online and in science. This is a special instalment of the URLs of wisdom in which I round up some new and some not-so-new links that explore silencing, story and speaking up. If you have additional reading material on these topics to recommend, please add it as a comment.

“I’m a unique bird and I will not be deterred from making my song heard.”
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnfish/3932308358/

Silencing

  • In her essay “Cassandra Among the Creeps“, Rebecca Solnit explores the story of Cassandra of Troy who, in contrast to the Boy Who Cried Wolf, speaks the truth but her warnings are ignored. Solnit goes on to describe three concentric circles of silencing that keep women from speaking out about their experiences:

“First come the internal inhibitions, self-doubts, repressions, confusions, and shame that make it difficult to impossible to speak, along with the fear of being punished or ostracized for doing so. Surrounding this circle are the forces who attempt to silence someone who speaks up anyway, whether by humiliating or bullying or outright violence, including violence unto death. Finally, in the outermost ring, when the story has been told and the speaker has not been silenced directly, tale and teller are discredited.”

  • In defence of backtalk – This blog post from the On Being blog explores who benefits from “etiquette” when the expected behaviours include showing politeness by staying silent or speaking only in a certain way:

“When the powerful and privileged insist on politeness as the prerequisite for listening, they gain two advantages: First, they shift the conversations from the content of an issue — the morality of the subject — to one about the forms being used to advance that conversation. Second, the marginalized don’t decide what tone is too forceful; the tastes of the poor don’t determine what’s profane and what’s acceptable. No, the weak never get to dictate terms to the strong.”

Online silencing

  • Social media and the spiral of silence – one way silencing happens online is in the way we self-censor what we’re willing to talk about based on whether we think friends and family will agree with us. Pew Research’s 2014 survey also showed that the three factors most likely to influence us speaking up about what we perceive to be a minority opinion are: how confident we are in what we know, how strong our opinion is about the subject and how interested in the subject we are.
  • “Silencing” also happens online when true statements are drowned out by the deliberate spread of false information – known as disinformation. The Data & Society research institute in NYC has a free, downloadable report with definitions for various kinds of online information from misinformation to propaganda.

Story and equal speech in systemic change – and successful teamwork

  • Using story to change systems is an in-depth look at the various ways storytelling matters which breaks down the ways in which story can act as light, glue or a web for communities.

“The work of systems change involves seeing systemically—looking at the elements, interconnections, and wider purposes of systems—and acting systemically. Story plays a vital role in helping us do both of these things.”

  • A study by Google of which teams are the most successful revealed two key components – both related to creating psychological safety. This is essentially “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”. The first component was that everyone on the team got equal air time:

“First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount.”

Secondly, as determined by a “reading the emotions in the eyes test”:

“the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues…They seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out.”

Silencing – and speaking out – in science

And finally, this week was the congressional subcommittee on Research and Technology’s hearing on sexual harassment and misconduct in the sciences. Professor Kate Clancy shared her oral testimony:

“Too often I’ve heard that harassment and bad behavior are the price we must pay for star scientists. But are they really doing star science? When I’m writing my papers or analyzing my data on sexual harassment in the sciences, I’m thinking of the victims and the science we’ve lost. We lost their ideas, we lost their perspectives. We scientists do this work because we want to give the best of ourselves to the advancement of science. Women keep trying to give us their best, and we blow ash in their faces and push them down mountains.”

 

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