Strengthening Your Skills

Nobody would undertake to write a computer program, build a house, or do any of a million other things without first acquiring the skills needed to do the tasks at hand. It simply would make no sense to attempt to do most jobs without first learning the required skills.

It is somewhat of a mystery why this same common sense understanding often isn't applied when we think about activism and political organizing. We somehow think that when we are "fired up and ready to go," energy is all we will need. The heat of our passion, we feel, will be sufficient to drive our success.

That's unfortunate. Passion is essential, but unguided by skill (and some restraint), passion alone can be ineffective or even counterproductive. We can do much better. Effective advocacy, activism, and organizing involves skills that can be learned, or improved in those already part way there.

The bottom line is simple. If you are going to commit your time, and perhaps your money, to support a political movement, you can greatly increase your return on that investment by strengthening your skills. That's common sense. Every prospective activist should want to be as effective as possible.

Communication Skills

How can you speak so that others will listen and listen so that others will speak? While there are clearly multiple elements that contribute to making efforts at communication effective, some of the communication skills that success requires are absolutely teachable. That includes more effective speaking and writing skills, use of social media, and employing the techniques of active listening. If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. Demonstrably.

Conflict Resolution Skills

If your goal as an activist is to get important things to happen, and of course it is, then you will sometimes find the path to success blocked by conflicts between groups. Whether the conflicts are between factions of the group you are part of, or between segments of the community that must be reconciled to move forward, in either case, the better you understand the concepts and methods of reducing conflicts, the more capable you will be of playing a helpful role. The skills involved are generally discussed under a range of headings: negotiation, mediation, conflict resolution, peacemaking, hostility reduction, trust building, and more.

Group Leadership Skills

It's easy to be cynical about teamwork training, but it wouldn't be such a cliché if it didn't often deliver value. Likewise, group process skills can be useful. These involve methods and tools to facilitate group discussion, decision-making, and cooperation. Many training programs aim at developing small group leadership skills, and many tools and techniques have been developed to build trust within groups and teams.

Skilled Self-Governance

It is increasingly recognized that the self, that is our ego, is a construction of our brain, and that lying under this construction is in fact a brain that might best be understood as a committee. That's why expressions like "I'm of two minds about that," "I'm conflicted about what decision to make," and the like are so omnipresent as people try to describe the process of their decision making. When reaching across political and cultural divides characterized by strong feelings on both sides, most people will experience their inner committee's conflicts. They'll have to control their anger and frustration, and they'll constantly host battles between the parts of themselves that embrace conflict and those parts more inclined to seek cooperation.

Learning to understand and successfully manage these inner committee conflicts is what we mean by the skilled governance-of-the-self. The skills involved can be discussed with words and expressions such as mindfulness, emotional intelligence, emotional maturity, emotional self control, impulse control, anger management, self understanding, and recognition and understanding of cognitive biases and logical fallacies. One note of caution. Use of the word "control" is misleading if it is understood to mean that some imaginary self takes charge and by virtue of authority, by use of some capacity we call "self-control," forces the unruly members of your inner committee into submission. This false concept is why New Year's resolutions almost always fail. It is better, more practical and realistic, to understand self-governance as the non-authoritarian effort by the members of your inner committee to understand each other, get along, and cooperate for the greater good. In this case, that greater good is you (the real you, not the imaginary one).

Published: August 2020
Revised: July 2023

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