What? [Pardon my language] science, fieldwork, etc.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sun, 28 Apr 1996 09:02:58 +0900

Richard Calo writes,

" For me, the problem develops around how we do the looking.
In the Saturday, April 20 post on which Mr. Foss commented, I
outlined two models for how we do this looking-- the first model
was that whereby we proceed from a position of power, whether
this is power invested in a superior firearms, or in a belief that
we have a superior understanding on some matter. The second
model was one where discussion might be possible, although
only on the basis, of course, that we leave our power (or at least
the lethal aspects of it) at home. Let me state, as clearly as I can,
that these models represent actions or styles of action. In other
words, unlike belief, which Rappaport described as an interior
state knowable if at all only to the believer, these styles of action
are observable."

Suppose that we go a step further. If these two styles are
"observable" would it, then, be possible to train observers in one
or the other?

In training for a telephone crisis line, we start from the hard,
material fact of the telephone itself. We pick up the phone, the
caller is in trouble. There is nothing we can do to help. We have
no medicine or money to offer. Not even a helping hand; try
reaching across a telephone line. People who volunteer to work
on crisis lines are people who want to help. Lesson 1 is a hard
one. We are literally powerless. The only thing we can do is be
part of a dialogue through which the caller may find her own
solution to the trouble she faces. It must be her solution, for only
she can act.

We start with active listening. Step 1 is silence. Shutting up and
giving the caller a chance to speak; not rushing in with our own
"understanding" or "advice." Often the caller will find it hard to
speak. We must learn to wait patiently, wait until the silence
becomes uncomfortable, and then wait some more.

Step 2 is minimal encouragers: "sublinqual grunts" as my wife
calls them. Small noises that say only, yes, I'm here, I'm
listening, in a way that encourages the caller to go on talking.

Step 3 is open-ended questions: Not "What did he do then?" But
"Could you tell me more about what was going on?" Here again,
we resist the temptation to turn the caller's story into a story that
we imagine. [Thus, for example, a woman calls. In a soft voice
she says "I am Maria...I'm from the Phillipines...I'm having
trouble with a man." For a foreign resident of Tokyo, it is all too
easy to assume that she is a bar-girl, a prostitute, in trouble with a
client or a pimp. She is, in fact, a highly paid executive of a
multinational bank.]

Step 4 is paraphrasing: We've heard a lot. It's important to check
if what we've heard is accurate *from the caller's point of view*.
So we say something like, "Let me see, what I've heard you say
is...." The caller is then free to correct us.

Step 5 is tricky. It's called "reflecting feelings." Here we say
directly to the caller "You're feeling mad [sad, stuck,
frustrated....]" using a word that refers directly to a feeling. If we
are right, the caller will say "Yes." She will feel that her feeling
has been heard and accepted. If we are wrong, she will tell us so.
We might expect that she would be angry at being
misinterpreted. Experience shows that it rarely, if ever, happens.

Step 6 combines steps 5 and 4. "You're feeling X because of Y,"
where X is a feeling and Y is a paraphrase of the situation. Now
we are attempting to link the feeling and the situation, again
*from the caller's point of view.* Again the caller will tell us if
we are right or wrong.

Step 7 is called intuitive decoding. Here the telephone worker
senses something else going on that the caller has not yet talked
about. She offers a speculation. "We've been talking about
[paraphrase], but I sense that [speculation]. When it works, both
worker and caller break through to a new level of understanding.
A genuine moment of insight occurs. But again we must wait for
the caller to tell us.

It's an interesting process that demands of the telephone worker
an openness to hearing things she may never have even
imagined before. It requires objectivity, the discipline to
withhold interpretation until facts are gathered and checked. It
builds on consensus. The caller must agree with worker's
inferences. It creates the possibility of deepening insight, but
insists that insights be validated.

How is this different from science? Or what anthropologists
should, perhaps, be doing in the field?

John McCreery
April 28, 1996