Over a thousand people gathered in Forrest Place in the Perth CBD recently. Strangers, we came together in the hopes of making a powerful statement to government and to the broader population, using silence as a means to protest the Perth Freight Link project and its impact on the Beeliar wetlands.

Beelier Wetlands is part of the greater Beeliar Regional Park, which extends for 25km along the coast, south of Fremantle. It covers about 3,400 hectares and comprises 26 lakes and a number of wetland regions. The Perth Freight Link – known as Roe 8 – has become a major election issue. The current Premier is determined to see it through, despite clear flaws to the planning and tendering process, repeated breaches of environmental conditions and ongoing public outcry.

A range of protest action has been underway for some time and, with state elections less a month away, the pace has picked up. The objective is to halt – or at least slow – the project in hopes of a change in government on March 11 and subsequent policy change on this issue.

What are you watching?’ someone called out from the balcony overhead.
I wanted to shout back, ‘the incremental, ruthless decimation of beauty!’ – but I didn’t.

Standing in that well of silence in the middle of a busy city was a remarkable and humbling experience. The rumble of traffic behind us, the people-noise from the Sunday Hawker’s market on the other side, and a gaggle of happy kids playing in the fountains in the middle – it all highlighted the  well of silence surrounding 1,000 people.

Silent protest isn’t something that comes naturally in this world of constant noise, activity, mobile phones, internet and people – so many people. Can silence work where vocal outcry and physical obstruction appears to have failed? I don’t know. But what I do know is that when that many people are prepared to give up their Sunday afternoon and stand together in silence, it speaks volumes.

At least to those who are prepared to listen.


This amazing street art went up Stevens Street Reserve in Fremantle last week to draw attention to the issue. Sadly, it was defaced by vandals within days of being painted. Perhaps it’s a little too close to the bone for some?

Whether the combination of our silent protest, the wall art, the determined and committed protesters on the ground on the Roe 8 site and support in the Senate in Canberra make a difference, the reality is that nothing fails more surely than NOT TRYING.

On the way home in the train this week I noticed a poster advertising a local university. The headline caught my attention.

Brilliance has no sexual orientation. Opportunity doesn’t discriminate.

It probably made more of an impact on me than it otherwise might have because I’d just been to see Suffragette, so my mind was still full of the extraordinary accomplishments of the women it portrayed so vividly.

The combination of the film and the poster brought The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, to mind.  I read this book almost two decades ago and was powerfully affected by it. The story is set in a not-implausible near future dystopia in which a puritan theocracy holds sway. This scenario, in which women are stripped of all power, highlights the relative ease with which the rights and freedoms we tend to accept without thought can be taken from us.

These rights and freedoms, for which generations of women fought doggedly, now appear to have always-already existed. Most young women I speak to have little interest in how these rights and freedoms were won – and even seem to find it implausible that our society has ever been anything other than the way it is today. As for the possibility of those rights and freedoms being eroded or lost… that’s not a conversation they seem to want to have. Apparently it’s ‘so last century’.

Perhaps seeing Suffragette could shift that point of view, at least somewhat. The portrayal of the determination and spirit of ordinary women striving for a better world was both engrossing and humbling, and the absolute silence in the cinema when the film ended was very telling.

A few key points regarding women’s suffrage that have direct bearing on my past: In South Africa, the land of my birth, white women were awarded the vote in 1930. My mum would have been about 13 years old at the time.  It took a further 64 years before black women gained the same rights.  Here in Australia, my chosen home, women gained the right to vote at a national level in 1902. This excluded aboriginal women, who were allowed to vote from 1962 onwards – but were only were granted full citizenship in 1967.

This window into the past shows some interesting parallels – and it also shows how far my homelands, past and present, have come. Complacency is dangerous, however. I think it’s often all too easy to accept a way of life when it favours us, without giving thought to how that way of life might have come about – or whether we would have the strength of character to fight the good fight to gain it or to keep it.

It’s also appears disturbingly easy to not pay attention to shifts in our society until they coalesce and we are no longer heading where we thought we were. Around the world there is a perception that women’s rights are being gradually eroded or sidelined. Equal pay and non-discriminatory hiring practices continue to elude us, despite having the vote and notionally being equal under the law. But most disturbing are endemic sexual assault  and the never-ending arguments as to who has rights over women’s reproductive capacity.

Are we paying enough attention to these things?

To quote The Handmaid’s Tale: Ordinary… is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.

Is this what we want? For mysogyny to be ordinary?

The links between the history of women’s suffrage, a patriarchal system that is self-perpetuating, shifts in social attitudes, the ease with which freedoms are accepted and can therefore be eroded – along the possible attendant consequences – are clear. What all this tells me is that a poster advocating that opportunity doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation is, quite simply, misleading.

So take responsibility – and play a part, however small, when it comes to awareness of key issues in our society, paying particular attention to emancipation and to feminist solidarity.annie lennox feminism.

 

Early this year I attended my first plastic-novelties party (as my family so charmingly calls them) in over a decade. At the time I was very interested to see how popular Tupperware still is – or is again. Whilst it certainly is both a reliable and attractive product, does that warrant the cost? Does Tupperware work hard enough to keep their market share?

Despite some ambivalence on these questions, I recently found myself inviting 20 or so friends over for a demonstration of the new summer range. We watched the young demonstrator prepare and bake a (delicious!) one-cup coconut and sultana slice, which cleverly showcased the new baking range and promoted it rather effectively. However, since I’d hosted the demo as a favour-for-a-friend, there was no pressure to purchase anything – and this may have added to the relaxed ambience. It turned into a pretty rowdy afternoon of chit-chit, tasty treats and amused reminiscing over past Tupper-experiences.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA few people had taken the opportunity to bring along damaged items for replacement, but found out that this is now all done independently by customers online. The process sounded pretty straight forward so, bright and early on Monday morning, I duly went online to arrange replacements lids for a couple of my storage containers. Both are fairly venerable and the lids have developed small cracks in the corners, an eventuality covered by the “famous lifetime guarantee”.

What actually transpired was an enormous amount of dissatisfaction, time-wasting and heightened levels of irritation. I ended up sufficiently irked to compose a letter about the new “improved” replacement policy on the lifetime guaranteed goods and to email it off – still in high dudgeon.

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After four days of no response, I did indeed turn to social media. I tried commenting on Facebook and also adding comments where other people, similarly irritated and dissatisfied, have voiced their opinions. Still no response.

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If anything, the company seems to be doing a great job of devaluing a brand that’s worked effectively for decades (despite increasing competition in the market place) and alienating long-term customers. This is, at best, shortsighted.

If you’re of a similar mind on this topic, you could trying adding your voice to those already out there by putting a message up on the visitor comments section Facebook page – and by scrolling down and LIKING the relevant comments from others.

It’s time for Tupperware to earn their market share, rather than assume it’s secure.

Over the past few weeks I’ve reviewed constitutions, typed up minutes and attended the committee  and/or annual general meetings of a number of organisations. The meetings have been particularly tedious as most have tended towards unduly long discussions that don’t reach conclusions, poorly informed decision making and uneven participation – and some even devolved into bun fights (sustained, overblown arguments about a trivial point, sometimes of a personal nature and not relevant to the point under discussion).  Surely this is a self-defeating and pointless way to run any meeting?

If I were to hazard a guess as to why it happens, I’d say that a key reason might be that such meetings are so ubiquitous that most people don’t think that there’s very much to them. My experience has been that it’s generally assumed that the Chair will know what to do, whether or not this is actually the case, and that s/he will keep things on track. Indeed, I’d lay odds that the majority of voluntary committee members are rarely inclined to put much time into researching how to run a meeting or – more particularly – how to participate in one effectively.

Researching alternative meeting styles as possible solutions to the meeting dilemma, I came across something called collaborative governance, also known as the Sociocratic Method. This, if implemented effectively, is supposed to equally empower all participants, allow everyone to voice their concerns and/or objections, and to encourage participants to contribute information. Key to the process is the group’s shared sense of purpose and desire for collaborative decision making. Group members take turns to be the meeting facilitator, so that meetings are not always run by the same person. Each person present is given the opportunity to speak in turn (rounds), although they can choose to pass. Discussion topics each have two or three rounds of comment dedicated to them, so that clarity, consensus and consent can be achieved.

I’ve no doubt that, with practise, patience and commitment, this meeting style could work very effectively. Certainly, taking the time to listen to individual focused views on each topic from each person is a laudable objective. Ideally this would result in quieter members gaining a voice and feeling empowered. The downside is that this process is a time-hungry one, particularly for ‘new players.’ Since the issue of long meetings generally discourages meeting participation, I feel this is self defeating and may well result in difficulties filling key committee positions. Sadly, I personally have neither the time nor the patience for long meetings any more, so this wouldn’t work for me.

Broadly speaking, the success of any meeting actually appears to hinge on a combination of pre-planning, clear goals, and effective and focused chairing. Whilst this is a combination that is trickier to find than one might think, there are strategies that groups can implement to move their meetings in the right direction. Circulating a clearly prioritised agenda in advance of the meeting, followed by a quick overview by the chair at the start of each meeting, an effective hand at the helm to keep the meeting on track (in terms of decision making and time keeping) and an inclusive and cooperative manner would go a long way towards improving meeting outcomes. Following this up with clear meeting minutes, circulated in good time after the meeting, would round things off nicely.

I do wonder, however, whether combining an aspect of sociocracy at the start of meetings might prove useful. Perhaps introducing a round in which each person is given the opportunity to articulate what is uppermost in their mind in relation to the meeting up front might settle the group and encourage more active participation. It may also reduce the likelihood of additional items being added to the agenda at the last minute – one of my particular pet peeves.

I’ll give this some thought later. For now I’m completely meeting-ed out. Time to pat a kitten and have a cup of tea!

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I recently had a conversation about conversations with a friend. She was bemoaning the fact that conversation appears to be becoming a lost art. After doing some reading on the topic. I  found that Cicero had a few pretty sensible things to say on it. Now, I do realise that he was around a VERY long time ago – he was a Roman philosopher, after all, and died in (approx.) 43BC, but the points he makes seem to me to be as valid now as (I assume) they were then.

He suggested that conversationalists bear the following in mind:

  • Speak clearly and with ease – but don’t overdo it and ramble on interminably.
  • Try to ensure that you don’t prevent others from having a turn to speak.
  • Adopt a tone that’s appropriate to the topic of conversation.
  • It’s a good idea to avoid criticising people in their absence – it’s demeaning to all concerned.
  • Try to keep your topics of conversation to those of general interest.
  • A thing to remember is that talking about yourself has pretty limited audience appeal – you’re just not that interesting to everyone.
  • Conversations usually draw to a natural conclusion, so allow them to rather than dragging them out endlessly.

Most importantly, bear in mind that polite and respectful interaction is a key to good conversation: don’t interrupt – and keep your temper in check at all times

I imagine that all of those points sound perfectly reasonable to most people. After all, I’m pretty sure we all want to speak with assurance, not be boring or rude and avoid offending others if possible. In which case, why do so many people seem to ‘grab the speaking baton’ and just not let go, resulting in one-sided, rude or thoughtless conversations?

Perhaps Cicero could have added that we would all be well served if we tuned in to the body language of the person/people we’re talking to. Doing so provides a host of clues as to whether they’re engaged in the conversation or simply either startled rabbits or captives to our monologue. (Admittedly tricky in online conversations, in which case refer back to Cicero’s key points re conversation.)

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In short, conversations are about two or more people making connections, finding a common language, taking turns to speak, being courteous and, in no small part, non-verbal communication. So how does it all go wrong – when it does?

There seem to be a number of common pitfalls, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all fallen into one or more of them; I certainly have:

  • Reacting to the content of the conversation in an aggressive way – this generally ends up getting a bit personal and turns a conversation into a win/lose scenario, rather than a sharing of information. An alternative I’ve had some success with is to take a deep breath and to try for a neutral response – this usually gives me a space in which to regroup so that I can redirect the point and keep my temper reigned in. The outcome is that I feel in control and don’t end up looking silly.
  • Not listening – this is when you zone out a bit or start thinking about a related point or are simply waiting to take your turn and say your piece. The thing is, though, that that’s not conversation and, as I’ve discovered, can end up with you being caught out when a question is directed your way. Active participation requires that you pay attention to the speaker and notice their verbal and non-verbal cues. Try to imagine and action the sorts of responses you’d like to get if you were the speaker.
  • Not interested – this is the trickiest one for me. My attention always tends to slide when I’m not interested in a topic. I’ve had some success in simply moving the conversation along by slipping in a transition sentence – this is a sentence that’s sort of relevant, but that works to shift the focus of the conversation. Something like ‘Oh, before I forget, I wanted to tell you…’ or ‘I was wondering if…’ They’re polite redirects and usually work. Well, often work. Might work 🙂
  • Dominating the conversation – the answer to this one is body language. If the other people in the group are pulling away, avoiding eye contact, fiddling with things in their pockets – that sort of thing – you’re losing them or have already lost them. One way around this is to try to avoid your favourite topic, at least sometimes, since that’s probably an area where you’re likely to take over and dominate the conversation. But if you’re already in it – well, just take a breath and move on. Really, just let go – you don’t need (or own) the conversational baton. Give others a chance and you’ll find that everyone enjoys the conversation more – because then it is a conversation.
  • Conversational narcissism – closely related to the last point, actually, but more along the lines of always steering a conversation back to oneself. We all do it to some extent, but if a conversation is what you’re interested in, then try to ensure that you don’t shift the focus onto to yourself too often.

It’s probably impossible to follow all of Cicero’s conversational guidelines in every conversation – people are people, after all. We will inevitably find ourselves not only the target of conversational pitfalls at times, we’ll also be the perpetrators. The key is to try to be alert to both and aim to be good at conversation – work on the art of it; I’m pretty sure it makes it more fun for everyone.