2 weeks ago, 2 women from Sew Can We, our income generation project got together on a zoom call to get a sense of what it means to govern themselves as a sociocratic circle. Introducing the concept, principles, and tools of sociocracy was a Community Fellow from the National University of Singapore and also present were 2 staff members from The Institute of Policy Studies. 4 of us working together with these women were also listening in and we could not help feeling very proud how seriously these women took the session.
In a sociocracy, every voice of those present must be heard. Shyness is not an excuse because a silent minority will undermine the effectiveness of the group. So, “rounds” is a primary process for everyone to speak and decisions are made based on consent rather than consensus. Consensus requires agreement but consent simply requires that no one disagrees. And anyone who disagrees must provide a reason why a proposal does not support the goal of the group or the purpose why it was formed in the first place.
Sew Can We puts some money in the pockets of its members but it is also meant to encourage mutual help among its members which is a lofty goal when disagreements about the quality of work produced happen frequently. The women shared that with the pressure to deliver on an order, impatience with each other creeps in and they find it very hard to accept that teammates do not follow instructions precisely.
Upon further reflection, they agreed that the lack of a common language contributed significantly to the misunderstandings. Nonetheless, the women accepted the suggestion that they needed to pick up skills in non-violent communication and are happy to be introduced to the methods of Marshall Rosenberg that promote authenticity, empathy, and collaboration. They will explore and try out these skills in the months ahead but meanwhile, they have found a new way to lower the language barrier – a translation app on their phones.
This week, a fresh order of reusable masks was delivered promptly despite 2 hiccups. Firstly, 8 pieces from one of the women were rejected but her husband who delivered them did not understand what we were trying to say and eventually she thought that she was short-changed. So, a zoom call but with the conversation typed into a language translating app clarified matters in Thai and all was well. The other hiccup was our failure to inform a Chinese speaking lady of a change in appointments to pick up materials. So, my colleague who does not speak or read Chinese, sent an apology in the Chinese language and informed that she will deliver the materials instead. When she reached the lady’s home, she was warmly welcomed and received 2 rice dumplings.
My colleague accepted it graciously but also decided to be honest by texting the lady that she was on a low-carb diet. The translation got across as the Chinese lady looked at my colleague in the eye and this time even without the translation app, the message was clear. “Why do you put yourself through something like that?”
While the Chinese lady looked at my colleague with bewildered sternness, it was not violent communication as the gesture resulted in both having a good laugh.
Wishing you good health and peace of mind,
A language is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is. It’s all embodied in a language. – Noam Chomsky