This is something I have been thinking about for a long time, and I feel it’s time to issue a call to action. Journalists everywhere, without delay, need to start training in non-violent communications in order to adapt to a world of increasing complexity. This is important.
The urgency was driven home to me yesterday while listening to a violent clash on French radio (France Culture) between anthropologist Paul Jorion and journalist Brice Couturier.
Jorion is big on complexity theory and systems thinking, and during the interview he tried to explain that the financial system was already defunct, and that it is beyond salvation, so we should stop dreaming about a miracle bailout or solution that will stop the train wreck. Couturier seemed a bit peeved, and started calling Jorion a “prophet”, and badgered him repeatedly by interrupting him mid-sentence and demanding to know “what’s the solution, then”? Jorion got upset, and became repetitive and defensive. He told Couturier that he was a part of a system that was being routed, and that his anger was a reflection of that.
I think most people listening to this would have experienced the discomfort I felt, probably for two main reasons. The first is of course that Jorion warns that we are within weeks of a break-up of the euro zone (not the first time someone has said this, Jacques Attali and others have forecast the same but somehow Jorion delivers the gloomy news with more force) and that anyone who lives here is going feel some degree of fear and unease at the prospect of violent change. The second, however, is much more important – the complete disconnect between Jorion and his journalist interlocuteurs. They were unable to understand eachother at the most basic level, and I find this very worrying.
We’ve already seen how the media has reacted to Occupy Wall Street, and its European counterpart, the “Indignados”. They accuse them of having no agenda, and then hope that they will go away. Governance expert and blogger Guy Janssen writes intelligently about this here. Who needs an agenda when you have a vision?
Journalists are trained to extract sound bites from their interviewees. They are programmed to corral an interview towards closure, in the same way that their own stories have to have a beginning, middle and end. The end can often be a “good quote”, a nice ringer of some kind that sounds a closing note. You get the idea. So an interviewee who does not obeys those laws is, invariably, punished in some way, or at least never invited back. Public relations firms train their clients to perform for the media in this way with their messages and sound bites. The whole system is the antithesis of authentic. And I believe that it’s now getting in the way of our ability to adapt to what’s happening.
Good questions should invite curiosity and inquiry. They do not need to promote action or problem solving immediately. Connecting to ourselves in order to better connect with others can transform the way we engage and help to build better solutions for the future.
An open-ended question is one that does not have a simple yes/no answer. It’s one that invites inquiry and curiosity. If trust is present, the question will surface good ideas and possibilities. It’s what we need more of in all our relationships, but especially in the nexus of politics and media.
It only takes one person to start a movement – which journalist is going to be the first one to start asking open-ended questions and not be afraid of what will happen next?