The Training of COs: Understanding Social Investigation and Integration

A person fresh from college who passed the interview and the two-week exposure as part of the screening for the training program, surely doesn’t know yet how to go about talking to people in the community in a manner a trained community organizer does. Introducing oneself to people or knocking at doors to be able to know the issues in the community do not yet come naturally to a trainee who is just in his first week in the area. So, a trainee must learn how to start a conversation as if it were the most natural thing to do because it is supposed to be the most natural thing to do as a community organizer.

That is why a person who works with poor people have to be knowledgeable about a lot of things. Not just the things that intellectuals love doing but even things that very ordinary people do like watching a soap opera, a basketball game on TV, prime time shows and a lot of stuff ordinary folks are associated with. Not because these are the right things to do but because when trainees in community organizing go around the community they will be able to catch community topics that naturally flow in the air. Does this mean being like the people in every way as in dressing up like them, laughing like them, eating like them? Not in that sense but more along the side of solidarity with the people’s longing for quality life.

Communicating with people in the community takes more than the verbal aspect. How does a trainee see the subliminal levels of communication? For instance, when a family asks a trainee to take something to eat and the trainee feels that the food offered does not conform with his/her standard of cleanliness, even a very polite “no” can still be interpreted as a rejection. The trainee then will have to be keen with body language or other forms of non-verbal communication. It’s important then for a trainee to have a basic knowledge of transactional analysis in the context of class analysis. A trainee should answer questions like: Do they really mean what they say or do they mean something else? When people say they’ll come to a meeting and they don’t come, what does that mean to them? Why do people always feel that around them there are always those out to discriminate them? The answer to these questions are not as simple as we think.

In the first month of the trainees’ work in the community, it’s like he should be out to unlearn a number of things first and learn new things later. Like that quiet assertiveness inside his head or heart that tells him that his educational background makes him more knowledgeable than the people in the community. This is one major thing the trainee should check inside himself. Some people call this the “burden of the intellectual”. Why is feeling that you know better than the people is an “intellectual’s burden”? Because a burden never makes you feel free. Just like when you travel with a lot of weight, you are never at ease. When the weight of knowing more than the others is a big stone inside one’s head, there’s no space in one’s head or heart for appreciating the wisdom of others, especially the wisdom of those who haven’t been through formal education. Because there is no intellectual space for that if the trainee hasn’t gotten rid of that burden. That’s why the first thing a trainee in community organizing learns while doing integration and social investigation is getting rid of the “burden of the intellectual” and listening to what the poor are saying.