Communication that alienates and children’s books
“Life-alienating communication both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals, own benefit. It would be in the interest of kings, czars, nobles, and so forth that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slavelike in mentality…… When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.” Marshall B. Rosenberg
“Do what you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are” Nkosi Johnson (a South African boy born with HIV who became an advocate for children with AIDS before he died at about age 12)
Perverse communication – red flags
A. In today’s post I will make a brief reference to Dr Marie-France Hirigoyen’s book, Ethical Harassment: Perverse Violence in Everyday Life, which I mentioned in the previous post. In relatively few pages, the book covers a range of topics related to psychological violence and manipulation and points out all the red flags that could warn someone about the destructive communication dynamics in a personal, peer or other professional relationship. In the workplace or in educational settings, for example, the attack often takes place underground in the context of nonverbal communication with sighs, indifference, destabilizing implicit and malicious comments, slanderous lies, in order to push the targeted person into isolation and to their limits so that they are more likely to react and make mistakes. Concerning the workplace Hirigoyen writes: “In order to exterminate a worker, he /she must be isolated – all alliances are dissolved – so that he /she cannot defend him /herself. “When one is alone, it is difficult to revolt, especially when one believes that everyone is against them.”
Marie-France Hirigoyen opens her book by writing: “In life there are exciting encounters that motivate us to do our best, and others that wear us down and possibly break us. One person can destroy another through the process of ethical/psychological harassment. In fact, at some point, this persistent effort can result in real mental / psychic annihilation.” She discusses the necessity of using the term perverse and what it suggests in this context, and also, clarifies that her discussion will be informed from her expertise as a victimologist. She situates herself on the side of the victimized person from the start. The first part of the book focuses on both our private and professional life, psychological violence within the family and the couple’s relationship, as well as, in the workplace. The second part analyzes perverse ways of relating either in our private lives or in the public space, and describes the victim and the attacker, and the characteristics of this perverse violence and communication. The rest of the book is devoted to the effects of these tactics on the victimized individual both during the influence phase and in the long run, as well as, suggestions and advice on how to get help. In today’s text I will focus on this type of perverse communication. Hirigoyen writes that this kind of “influence uses means that give the illusion of communication – a peculiar communication, which does not bring together, but removes and prevents exchange. With this distorted communication, the perpetrator intends to use the other. To maintain and intensify the confusion, he must manipulate verbally. Hiding the real information is important in order to make the victim weak.”
Firstly, in this type of communication there is a systematic denial of direct communication through the avoidance of direct answers and minimal verbal communication. Refusal to name a situation or problem, refusal to dialogue and explain, avoidance of open conflict and finding a solution together are used to prevent the victim from thinking, understanding, reacting. This ultimately leads to alienation. A second characteristic of this type of communication is the frequent distortion of speech. Speech is contradictory, cold, vague and intimidating. A third characteristic of this communication is the frequent use of lies, especially indirect lies and an intense attachment to details, avoiding the essence of the issues (in order to distract the other), vague hints, tall stories and falsification of the truth. Hirigoyen refers to a 5th century BC treatise with the title: The Art of War by the Chinese Sun Che, who writes: “The art of war is the art of deception. In fact, when someone presents himself as different from what he is, he increases the chances of winning “.
A fourth characteristic is contempt. Hirigoyen writes that contempt is a weapon of the weak and provides temporary protection from unwanted emotions, and is often addressed to women. The person who systematically uses perverse communication implements destabilizing moves in public while trying to find allies in their environment. A fifth feature is the frequent use of paradoxical messages. For example, something is expressed verbally while something else is implied non verbally, which results in many messages not being immediately perceived as aggressive or destructive, because they are confused with others, which are transmitted simultaneously.
The sixth characteristic of perverse communication is the constant reducing the other, making them feel smaller. The attacker takes away talents and strengths from the other and because the attacks are indirect it is difficult for the victim to perceive what is going on. Hirigoyen writes that in general, in order to destabilize the other, one needs in the long run to ridicule one’s political positions, values, ideas and preferences, not to address another person often, to undermine one in public, to deprive one of the opportunity to express oneself, to exploit weaknesses, to undermine abilities and self-confidence, to make the person doubt their abilities, to sew discord in their social environment, to create doubts about one’s thoughts and feelings so that one gradually loses one’s sense of identity. The seventh characteristic of this destructive form of communication is the “divide and rule” tactic. The attacker provokes rivalries and envy and then watches with pleasure the exhaustion of the others, as he feels victorious having achieved his goals. This is a tactic that the attacker uses to impose power, inflict punishment, hurt, exhaust, distract and unload their own intense envy. Also, the attacking person, by projecting their intentions and behaviors onto the other person, shifts guilt (embolism of guilt onto the victim).
Finally, a key feature of this dysfunctional and destructive form of communication is the imposition of power. The process is systematic until the other person is subjugated, enslaved, rendered obedient, silenced, deformed. Hirigoyen clarifies that perverse violence is different from direct abuse of power by tyranny. There the oppression is obvious, while in this case the violence is exercised underground. It is “pure violence“. She refers to Reynaldo Perrone, who calls it “violent punishment” because it is asymmetrical, hidden and without respite.
B. Two children’s books on the daily life and joys of Black children
Every now and then I might treat myself to a children’s book. I recently got two illustrated books that celebrate Black children’s daily lives and joys. A little girl and her Mama walking in the rain. A little boy, his Grandpa and the bright yellow moon. Stories of nurture and our natural environment…. Two short extracts below:
Me and Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera
“Outside a pecker pecks. /The side walk is longer than it is wide. / I love the grass that grows in the in-between. / It’s moss, Mama says. / It’s velvet, I say. / A hole is where a branch was. / Nests are left behind in winter. / Some things don’t let go. But for what? / The stores are boxes filled with people.”
Max and the tag-along moon by Floyd Cooper
“Then slowly, very slowly, Max’s bedroom began to fill with a soft yellow glow. The clouds faded away and the moon peeked through! Max gazed up at that ball of light and thought about what Grandpa said. “That ol’ moon will always shine for me….on and on!” Max knew then that whenever he saw the moon, he would think of Grandpa, on and on. And he slept soundly embraced in soft yellow light.”