Dialogue with "the other"

For this blog entry, we include an entry from the class journal of current Rehearsing Change student, Ruby Goldberg. Ruby is a junior at Brown University studying Computer Science & Latin American Studies. The journal is a required course component for the class "Theatre for Social Change and Innovation"

(Ruby participating in a community-based Theatre for Social Change workshop)

Dialogue is an academic concept – something that we can read about and think about and try to obtain. How do you create a group in which people are open to new ideas, where they are not defensive and might leave with a different understanding than they entered with? But dialogue is also casual. It is the back and forth of people in conversation, whether it is over the meaning of identity or what to eat for dinner. Sometimes, like when we are in class, people take turns speaking while everyone else listens. They speak clearly and more formally, trying to get their idea across to everyone else. But other times everyone speaks at once, with interjections and waves of laughter punctuating what any one person is saying. Dialogue is what allows a conversation to morph form one topic to another, what makes a story collective rather than individual. “Oh yeah, that happened to me too”! Or “No, for me it was like this”.

In the past weeks, I’ve felt the significance of non-verbal communication. Communication through images, movement, music, dancing, and physical connection. Communication through pointing and smiles and grimaces and sounds: “uhu”, “ahh”, “ohhh”, “hmm” “uhh”, “umm”, “aja”. How can I circumvent the barrier of vocabulary and grammar to understand people and have them understand me even when I can’t say what I want to verbally? Can a one-sided dialogue exist? I think a dialogue in two different mediums definitely can exist. I think these non-verbal forms of communication have become especially important because they allow me to not only listen or understand, but to comment and be a stronger presence. They allow me to occasionally lead the conversation or just contribute equally.

(Ruby's classmate, Evan, working on movement dialogue with Wilson Pico and community counterpart, Janneth.)

I think we all have “others” inside ourselves, although perhaps more accurately it is just “multiples.” I’m not sure I could define who is really the “me” that is not an “other”. But I do know that I (and I think most of us do) have different parts of my identity. I act, speak, and behave differently around different people. I don’t think this is ungenuine, I think it makes sense to feed off of the people around you. For me my “others,” my different identities, are represented by both the content and the manner in which I speak. The difference here has been that the “others” are not necessarily voluntary. Normally it is at least a somewhat conscious decision to change the way that I am acting. I make decisions to influence how people perceive me, or change the general tone of a group. There are also parts of my identity that are generally consistent, parts of myself that I value and are important to my identity. It has been challenging, and interesting, and I hope constructive, so see what happens when (at least my guess is that) some of these traits are no longer outwardly perceived as defining parts of my identity. I’m a City child at heart, and used to being independent -- but here I’m rarely by myself, and the longest walk I do alone is a 15 minute walk from home to class. I’ve always been an academic -- someone who values learning and intellectual curiosity. I feel like I’m learning constantly here, but outwardly I sounds like a 5th grader -- if I’m lucky. Maybe the the biggest change is I’m normally good at reading people and situations. I try to be aware of the dynamics of groups, and keep an eye out for friends. But here I’m just trying to not make big social blunders, and “perceptive” is definitely not on my radar. It’s hard to try to try to read a person when I don’t have a larger context to place them in. It’s hard -- but incredibly exciting -- to get to know people who grew up in a community of 250 when I grew up in a city of 8 million.

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It’s been a few weeks since I wrote this. Most of it still resonates strongly, but someone laughed at a joke I made yesterday, and that was a really good feeling.

(Ruby participating in an exercise called "image dialogue")

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