Communication and collaboration is key to changing any
system, especially something as diverse and broad as the food system. If
assumptions that pop up in our head may dictate how and what we communicate,
then this needs to be addressed. Between the labels we apply and the
assumptions we make, we create hundreds of reasons not to talk with someone,
let alone work with them. In the web of the food system and its intricacies,
this will get us nowhere. We should care immensely about how we are
communicating to others about the different parts of the food system as well as
the stories we tell ourselves. These ‘stories’ we tell ourselves can
immediately be what we feel as truths if we do not stop them in their tracks
and recognize them for what they are: over-generalizations that lead to assumptions.
Even more, diversity is key to any healthy system, so why wouldn’t we want a
range a views and opinions to work with and from?
So what thoughts in our heads are not stories? Many. Those
are the one’s attached to specific events and based on experience. These
experiences of others can create stories and assumptions in our heads when
talking with new people. Something they say, what groups they may say they
belong to, or even where they work can kick off a deluge of thoughts in our
head. This deluge creates a chain reaction of even more thoughts and emotions
that if not noticed mindfully, cloud our judgement in what is truly taking
place in front of us. Then, we hinder any true dialogue or collaboration.
It’s important to take a look at how our assumptions play a
pivotal role in how we communicate, and therefore collaborate. It can show up
in many different ways. For instance, someone does something that you dislike.
Your brain triggers a thought of that’s not what I wanted or how I would have
done it, potentially confirming negative impressions. Then emotions are
triggered of anger or sadness. These emotions then trigger outward facing
actions to represent these emotions such as blaming. The emotions can even
trigger further dialogue in your head, triggering the emotions to deepen. Or
someone says they belong to a certain political party that predominantly you do
not associate with or maybe even like. Your mind pulls up all the assumptions
you have around that word and you place them on that person. You now ‘know’
exactly who they are – no need to ask any more questions. All this happens
within seconds and quite unbeknownst to us. Communication shuts down and
collaboration is thwarted.
However, these thoughts and emotions can become known in the
moment with practice so that when they start appearing we can mindfully
acknowledge them and decide whether they should be simply held or acted upon. Even
if our emotions begin to be triggered, we can notice this without action too. I
took up a practice that seemed silly at first and was quite difficult where the
point was to begin to distinguish the emotions from the thoughts to see which
one came first and how they were triggering each other and causing me to
respond in certain ways.
What all of this gets at is the importance to separate the
person from the issue. Let’s say the issue is how to feed the billions of
hungry people. There are many organizations playing in this field from the
Gates Foundation, to seed scientists, to food banks, to food justice
organizations amongst many others. Do you dislike anyone who works at the Gates
Foundation because you do not like the organizations’ tactics? That is merging
the person with the issue. What stops anyone from the Gates Foundation from
disliking me based on the tactics I think we should employ. Then, once that
happens, communication stops.
Communication and collaboration are both taken for granted.
As if they naturally happen with or without our trying. But this is not the
case. These two take intention and thoughtfulness of the time they might take
for truly rewarding and co-created relationships. If we pause before responding
or stop before saying no to a collaboration to think why we might be getting
frustrated or shutting down, we might find that it’s an assumption in our head
that we are letting rule our emotions and responses. It’s hard at first to
pinpoint the thought or emotion. With time, it gets easier and you’re able to
see it before you even respond. The practice that I mentioned earlier proved to
be very useful when I was first trying to identify these thoughts. To begin, I
wrote in a journal every day. Not about my daily activities, but about an event
that bothered me in some way – even if it was small because hopefully you don’t
experience a bothersome activity each and every day. When writing, you
specifically write what was said as clearly as you can remember it. No side
thoughts. Direct quotes only. Then you write what thoughts came into your mind
when the other said what they said. Next, you write what emotion each thought
made you feel. It will probably be hard at first to distinguish between which
happened first internally – the thought or the feeling. This will start to
become clearer as you practice. Not only will you notice how the thoughts/assumptions
in your mind dictate your feelings, you will start to become more mindful in
conversations, catching the internal dialogue before it runs rampant
For any good collaboration to work, one needs communication.
But the communicated is only as good as the communicator.