The Training of Community Organizers - Part II

Learning to use the dialogical method in talking to people in the community is easier read than practiced. In many instances, a trainee can be very articulate about how the dialogical method is carried out but in actual practice does the exact opposite of the dialogical method. The method is about being in dialogue with the poor in a manner that the organizer listens more than talk. Because the “have nots” got used to the social programming that they are just seen and not heard, the trainee of community organizing should learn the skill and the art of making the “have nots” feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Being in dialogue with the poor does not mean the trainee should just shoot questions like he/she is in an investigating mood. Of course not. The art of drawing out or evoking the poor’s stories and analysis of their situation goes with an organizer’s natural way of carrying out a small talk. It’s not all the time asking questions. It’s looking for a point in the conversation where the other person can immediately connect to the telling of an experience or to respond to questions asked in a very naturally manner.

A trainer of community organizing was sharing this experience about how she did her small talk to get a cynical family man talk to her. The background of the story why the cynical family man didn’t like the community organizer was the situation in which his wife was always attending the small issue group concerns of the community which the family man frowned upon. Because the community organizer was the person going around the community to encourage people to participate, the family man didn’t like to talk to the community organizer. So, one late afternoon as the community organizer’s story went, she, the community organizer, tried to talk to the family man in the course of his cooking. He was frying rice. The community organizer was standing on a big stone outside the kitchen so she could talk to the family man.

Hmm, your cooking smells good but it seems you’re not putting garlic.The family man just continued to fry his rice. It was as if he heard nothing. He didn’t even care to look at the community organizer who was standing on a stone to save her from the dirty mud below. Then the mosquitoes started to bite the community organizer and she was slapping her legs often while she was trying to get the attention of the family man.

I don’t use garlic in my fried rice.

Don’t you know that there are couples who break up over the issue of not using garlic in fried rice?

Then the family man looked at the community organizer as she was slapping again the mosquitoes on her legs.

Maybe the family man finally took notice of the mosquitoes that continued to annoy the community organizer that he started to talk with the community organizer.

I love to cook without garlic. There’s a lot of mosquitoes there. Get inside. There are less mosquitoes here.

Happy that she was finally allowed to get into the kitchen, the community organizer asked:

What time will Stella come. (Stella is the wife.)

She’ll be around in a couple of minutes.

Surprise of surprises, the community organizer was given a cup of coffee while the family man continued his cooking. Then Stella, the wife arrived. Stella winked at the community organizer and gestured withher hand to communicate her feeling: “He allowed you to get in? That’s good news! The community organizer’s eyes sparkled as she was sipping her coffee.

Being allowed into a house to take part in a conversation, is not easy sometimes just like in the above story. But the skill of carrying out a small talk can make a difference.