Are you listening?

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OWS events, national and local, are designed to disrupt the usual flow of events, to draw attention to the issues being addressed, and to present demands. Such events are purposely confrontational, using the OWS strategies of lawful assembly, encampment, and "discussion." Confrontation is necessary to get the attention from the media and the individuals being addressed.
That is the confrontational side of OWS and it is working. There is another side that requires discussion. That is dealing with people outside OWS, and some participants inside OWS, in a one-on-one or in small group venue. If we are enthusiastic and if we believe that we are right in our views, it is easy to overwhelm others. I know because I have been an overwhelmer, years ago, and it is a losing proposition.
Part of OWS is that everyone gets a say, everyone contributes, and the resulting teamwork is organic. There has been an obvious high regard for the process, and for each other in the organization of the events which has earned high praise in the media and elsewhere. Participants within events, presenting their points of view, may feel the need to attempt to convince another person or a small group. This is the first point where it is crucial to understand the importance of listening.
No one accepts opinions presented forcefully unless they are already in agreement. If someone states something we already believe to be true, we may jump to agree and offer support. That is not the case if an idea is presented about which we have no opinion or are inclined to disagree. What that means is that no matter how much we believe something to be true, and no matter how forcefully we present that view, we are not likely to get the desired result -- agreement and support -- unless the other person already agrees with us.
People tend to follow the person who is identified as the natural leader within their group. Every group has a natural leader, even if the group is only assembled for, say, the duration of an elevator ride and nothing occurs that requires the identification of the natural leader. See the people entering the elevator. The door closes with the people inside. There is a natural leader in the group. But then the door opens and the people get out, not even aware, usually, that one of them was the natural leader. If the elevator gets stuck, then there is a situation where the natural leader does emerge. Who will that person be?
That person will be the best listener who demonstrates high regard for every member of the group and seeks to address the needs expressed by each member. That means that the natural leader will not be the person who begins barking orders, but the one who begins asking questions. And listening. Granted, this may be integrated with giving some quiet instructions, possibly expressed as suggestions, and seeking to engage each person with questions and responses showing that what each person said was heard and valued.
Be cautious, at this point, because many who try to listen do it quite poorly, interrupting frequently and presenting counter-arguments without actually hearing what the other person has to say. Quality conversations do take some time, and that's what you need. If you don't have the time, save your breath and hope for another encounter in the future.
That's the clue, then, for any discussion on issues where you find there is not immediate agreement. Presenting your position more forcefully will not work. Asking an individual to express his or her views tends to relax the conversation and to provide you with information about the basis for the other person's resistance to your ideas. Trust is gained in the process if the discussion remains low key. That means adopting a relaxed demeanor, as if discussing with an old friend, and your eyes and face expressing interest and understanding. If it is soon evident that agreement is not likely in the discussion, the point where the other person begins looking around for escape or the eyes glaze over, be willing to give it up and refocus on something where agreement may be possible, just to maintain a positive disengagement. That allows for discussion of other topics, in the future, where the memory of the present encounter is a positive one.
The same rules apply when engaging people outside of OWS who may be identified for possible recruitment. Your initial statement may meet with agreement, hesitancy, or disagreement. That's the time to begin listening, and that means really listening so you can understand the other person's frame of mind, past experiences, and the probability of possible recruitment. You will likely find out, in short order, if there is common ground or not. If not, then end on a positive. The person may be on a personal journey that will lead to greater receptivity at a later date. And it is a bummer for you to spend time with a "no" when you could be meeting with another person who may turn out to be a "yes."

That was an interesting


That was an interesting piece, and one that many people could benefit from reading. Much more can be gained from being a good listener, than from the person who indulges in a stream of ideas.