Resuscitation for meetings, with the help of a rhesus monkey…

I have done a fair bit of event-organising over the last few years, using relatively innovative formats (some stolen, some invented).  What I found was that afterwards people who liked the format would come up and say so and then
a) decide that although the techniques were indeed invigorating/ interesting, they weren’t quite “appropriate” for their own group, which after all had its Own Way of Doing Things (a Way that protected egos, was the path of least resistance etc etc)
b) announce these techniques to be very very good and say they would DEFINITELY use them at their next event… and then didn’t.

Of course, there must have been many who DIDN’T like the novelty and stalked off offended and weirded out, and muttering about touchy-feely hippies and martinets.

Anyhow, idiot that I am, it took me ages to realise that just because monkey sees and likes does not mean monkey will do.  People who organise events are afraid they’ll fall on their face (or lose, gasp, control), and are comfortable with the methods they use (the fact those methods don’t work is kinda irrelevant) and want a quiet (albeit ineffectual) life.
So unless you get into each of these organisations and change them (And at this point I am reminded of the great Leonard Cohen line “they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within”) bit by bit, then these new methods simply won’t ‘take’.(Footnote 1)

So I suppose, like silly Winston Smith, my only hope is with the “proles” – the people who come to a couple of these meetings and then slouch off from exasperation/boredom/unrelieved loneliness. But those people are, by definition, transitory, unconnected to power structures within the “movement” (I wish we had a better phrase than movement.  “Interconnected clubs?”  “Circle jerk?”  I suppose “smugosphere” will do the job.)

So, yes, I can organise my own events, and who knows maybe I will again. And I suspect the same thing will happen – people will come up afterwards and say “well done”.  But they won’t see THEMSELVES organising anything similar.  I have, inadvertantly, set myself up as this uber-activist or something.  Being so big, and male, and middle-class, doesn’t help of course…


Oh, and clock this amazing story (and accompanying video!) from the BBC
Monkey invents new way to break into coconuts

A rhesus monkey has been observed inventing a new way to open coconuts.
The monkey, known as ‘Pinocchio’ by the scientists studying him due to his big nose, first rolls a nut down to the docks on the island of Cayo Santiago, which lies to the east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea.
He then throws the nut up into the air and watches it smash onto concrete.
The technique is so complicated that no other monkey in Pinocchio’s troop has yet learned to copy it.

Footnote 1 Or is this a grossly simplified and self-servingly ‘heroic’ model of cultural transmission? Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

About dwighttowers

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3 Responses to Resuscitation for meetings, with the help of a rhesus monkey…

  1. leavergirl says:


    Who *are* these people you hang with?! 😦

  2. as always, thanks for raising the topic. This is something I’ve wrestled with a s a trainer. It’s one thing to spend a day with someone working on, say, facilitation skills, but another to expect them to return to a group and change its culture.

    I think it’s unrealsitic to have an expectation that folk will see something in action and then feel empowered enough to go and replicate it. In an ideal world, yes. Clearly there are a few foolhardy souls who are willing to try stuff out and risk falling flat on their faces in public and I suspect you’re amongst their number. It’s a pioneering role, which by definition is a role only a small percentage of the population take on.

    Let’s face it, not only are we asking people to have ‘got’ the participatory techniques that they’ve just experienced, but we’re also expecting them to be diplomatic enough to be able to go back to their group (if they’re part of a group) and negotiate agreement to try out some new ideas. That’s an altogether different skill and not one that all of us can lay claim to.

    And of course if they do get the go ahead and the new idea doesn’t work well (which is usually through lack of experience in using it rather than a flaw in the idea itself) they lose face and the idea loses credibility… next time someone suggests participatory techniques they’ll be met with “we tried that back in 2006 and it didn’t work….”. So there’s a lot at stake.

    Seems to me that we have to provide some kind of support if we want this to happen. Maybe the answer is to:

    *co-organise and co-facilitate an event or two until people have overcome their lack of confidence and found their feet
    *offer mentoring
    *offer to attend events and provide supportive feedback after the fact
    *build a little time to consider how to change the culture of groups whenever we train or otherwise engage) people in the use of innovative and participatory techniques and formats

    I’m certainly up for throwing around ideas if anyone out there wants to have that conversation.

  3. dwighttowers says:

    I am shocked, SHOCKED to find that sort of comment going on here. You seem to be saying that prancing around as a heroic innovator and ignoring the individual and systemic reasons that participatory techniques don’t spread is short-sighted and egotistical (my words, not yours).

    You mean, I might actually have to work harder and more compassionately if I want to see dissident subcultures adopt the (what I think is) best techniques?

    Seems like far too much of hard work. I’d rather wallow in smug bastardry, thankew.


    On a serious note. Your list is good. I think decent youtube videos (I’ve not yet watched the one that rhizome posted about recently) are also good as a tool. And maybe encouraging (bribing!) people who’ve liked the participatory techniques to explain their reactions (fear, confusion, slowly dawning realisation? Something else?) in writing, and to use these as testimonials, either anonymous or named. Or even make a youtube of them (not anonymous, obviously) explaining why it’s better…

    I would be happy to help with this if you want. I think it’s a conversation best held on rhizome because”Dwight Towers” is a bit of a mess – mix of book reviews, Star Wars gags and all sorts alongside the movement-building stuff….

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