consent-based communication

Yesterday, I was at a great meeting with really great people, many of whom do anti-violence work. But I was really taken aback when we were asked to do an exercise that was centered around thinking back to our earliest experience that contributed to our wanting to do this work.

It was an assignment—not an invitation—that for many people could go to a scary place. No doubt, going to these places might sometimes be manageable, and sometimes be very difficult and yet desired as part of someone’s healing.

The issue is about consent. We all need to learn more about how consent looks in the context of physical contact. But we also need a practice of consent in the context of communication. Just like in the context of physical contact, a consent-based approach to communication requires attention to power dynamics, like those between a facilitator and a meeting participant, between a yoga instructor and student, between a service provider and a “client” or “patient.”

When we find ourselves in a position of getting taken to a place we don’t want to go, I think we get to push back. Yesterday, I did push back for a broader question, which seemed to help others in the meeting too and I felt good about it. Other days, I have not felt powerful enough to do this and, instead, I lie. I think that these circumstances give us that right to lie, to protect ourselves. But this still doesn’t do anything to protect us from the initial harm of getting hard-pushed in the first place.

At the same time, when we are in a position that invokes power, we need to be more thoughtful about this. One dynamic of many positions of privilege, whether that’s being a male-bodied person or being a mental health professional, is feeling that we have a right to have something that belongs to another person, whether that means access to their body or access to information about their lives.

We don’t have a right to ask people to go places that they don’t want to go, tell us things they don’t want to tell, especially with regard to past experiences of violence and abuse.

I want us to be thoughtful about consent when we talk to other people. I want us to start to build a practice of consent in the context of communication.

Leaning Good Consent (a zine) *trigger warning: contains some descriptions of experiencing sexual assault

This zine is a good place to learn more about radical consent and why’s it’s important. I especially like that this zine includes a lot of suggestions and ideas for thinking through what consent looks like for you.

Let me know if you have something on this topic that you love or if you know of a place where someone has compiled such resources.

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