When I saw Jello Biafra speak at Gaukur á Stöng in 2001, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the angry guy who used to bark about problems as lead singer of political punk rock band The Dead Kennedys had become the angry guy who talked about solutions. He talked a lot about what the average person can do who has to work full time and raise a family, who doesn’t have much time to be an activist per se. But the most important thing he brought up is something that I find sorely lacking in the left in Iceland: the ability to communicate with others.
“If you do a lot of shouting and finger-pointing,” he said, “you not only alienate yourself, you also prevent people from listening to ideas that they might actually agree with, had you known how to talk to people like human beings.”
As plain-as-day obvious as this notion might be to some, it seems to be one lost to some very well-intentioned leftists I’ve spoken to thus far. In their circles, I find a lot of people getting together and agreeing with each other. Listening to the impassioned declarations can be inspiring, and I agree with them on most of the issues. But for the sake of those ideas someday becoming a reality, there are a few things I’d like to see the Icelandic left keep in mind when it comes to conveying those ideas to others:
1) Sometimes a good idea can come from the right. You might hate Davíð Oddsson with every fibre in your being, but opposing a proposal of his to ensure that no one company can control vast swaths of the media is just stupid. We’re supposed to vote for issues, regardless of where they come from. Know when a good idea comes from an unlikely source.
2) Learn when to shut up. No matter how right you believe you are, most people don’t have the attention span to listen to you prattle on and on about whatever it is you believe so strongly in. Stop every now and then and let a few sentences sink in. It’ll greatly increase the chance that they’ll remember what you said.
3) Ask questions. Everyone’s favourite topic of conversation is themselves. Asking why a person thinks the way they do – whether they agree with you or not – not only makes them feel involved and cared about, they might have an idea or point of view you never thought of before.
4) Absolutism is for hacks. Just because someone disagrees with you on something doesn’t mean they should be written off as “them.” A blanket dismissal of someone for not agreeing with you on one issue might cost you an ally on other issues.
5) Your opponents are human beings. As fun and easy as it is to portray your most diehard opponents as unfeeling monsters, in the end it only makes you look like a caricature of a radical activist and will ensure that no one will take you seriously let alone listen to you.
These are just a few of the basics. I believe in most things the left believes in and would like to see those things become reality. But that won’t happen if we just sit around agreeing with each other and attack our opponents. Change is brought about through communicating ideas, not barking them.