A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



Sat, 7 Jun 2014 11:42:59

Verbal Self Defence

So, this is a commonplace right? So I don't have to write coherent blog posts, I can just write whatever comes into my head. OK, there are four books that I've read about verbal self-defence.

Suzette Elgin Haden - "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defence"

Terry Dobson - "Aikido in Everyday Life"

George J Thompson - "Verbal Judo"

Luke A Archer - "Verbal Aikido."

Actually five - because Keith Johnstone has something interesting to say about everything

Keith Johnstone - "Improv for Storytellers"

They are all interesting (and frustrating) in their own ways.

Suzette Elgin Haden distinguishes different modes of speech:

Blamer - "You are an idiot".

Computer - "There seems to be a problem here."

Leveller - "Look, we're never going to get anywhere if we carry on like this."

One crucial point that she makes (that's actually reflected in the three other books to some degree) is that the worst thing that you can do is to respond to any attacks (and attacks can come in any of these three modes) in blamer mode. This is what Archer would call "responding to an attack with an equal amount of energy and in a directly opposing direction."[2]

The other crucial point that she makes is that it's very important to notice when you're being attacked and part of that is to understand that attacks can come in "Computer" mode and in "Leveller Mode" as well as in blamer mode.

Terry Dobson's book is annoyingly provisional, but he does say some very clear things about the danger of attacking - and uses diagrams. The big weakness with his book (and it's actually a weakness with all of them) is that the dialogue isn't real and therefore sounds terrible.

These are two quotes from "Aikido in Everyday Life" that I think are interesting.

Most attackers are spoiling for a fight. They are overextended, and they need the victim to fight back to preserve their tenuous balance.

[which is why pushing back in the exact opposite direction that you're being attacked is such a mistake - it keeps the fight stable.]

Even as we write, we're conscious of the fact that Fighting Back is one of the most counterproductive responses in most conflict situations. Certainly it is the least wisely and most widely used tactic in the whole lexicon of conflict.

The other thing that Dobson makes really clear is that whatever the situation is, you are better served by understanding that you have choices.

George Thompson There are two things (I think that I got from the George Thompson book) One is something that I need to look at more closely, is a way of diffusing situations by using elliptical and idiomatic phrases e.g. "'s alright", "notta problem". The other is something that he calls the "Five step hard style". I list it here with an example focused on getting some explicit requirements from a customer (sound familiar to anyone?)

1) Ask - "Can I have this information?"

2) Set Context - "I need this information so that we can get on with this project."

3) Present Options - "If we get this information, we can carry on with this project, if we don't get this information we'll either have to work on a specific assumption that we make ourselves, or stop the project."

4) Confirm - "Is there anything at all I can do that will allow/make you to give me this information?"

5) Act - OK, in the absence of this information, we're going to

Luke A Archer's book is, like the others, frustratingly brief. But again, it has some really interesting ideas in it.

One idea is sparring! Get some people together and let them have verbal fights. Let them have "lots of goes" as Keith Johnstone might say. This is a really good idea, but it's also intriguing how dangerous it might be. Imagine if someone in a sparring contest calls someone a fat bastard - and they are actually fat? Something like this happened recently to me when I was doing some improve. And it really fucking hurt. Actually somebody took the piss out of my hair recently when I was doing improv and I wasn't too happy about that either.

One interesting thing about this is that if you could get people sparring (safely), then you could also actually record and transcribe the sparring and maybe you could put it in a book (one weakness with all of these books is that they don't have any "real" or even "realistic" dialogue - of course even sparring wouldn't be real - conversations in them.)

The other interesting idea in Archer's book is the idea of creating imbalance and then guiding your opponent to balance. The idea of getting "side by side" with your opponent - where it is much harder for them to attack you. Archer makes the point that if you can unbalance your opponent and then guide them back to balance three times, then they become reluctant to attack you. As with Dobson's books, I'm less than convinced that all the kinks of how Aikido works in a verbal setting rather than a non-verbal setting have been worked out. It's disappointing as well, that this claims to be the first of three books, but the other two books don't appear to be forthcoming.

Keith Johnstone I'm including Keith because of his discussion of "The Hat Game." I was going to do the hat game at my verbal self-defence seminar - I even bought big, floppy hats, especially for the occasion. The idea of the hat game is that two people play an improv scene. They are both wearing floppy hats. The object of the game is to grab your opponents hat. If you try to grab and fail, you lose. You can't "hold onto your hat." You can't talk about the hats. What makes this interesting is Johnstone's observations. For example that people who are good at the hat game stay present all the way through, but manage to make their opponents "go inside themselves." And have to think.

OK, that's enough writing for today. Hopefully I'll manage to write a post tomorrow about meditation and all of the interesting stuff that's come out of reading "Thoughts without a Thinker". I want that post to be entitled "It's not you, it's not me."