The power of communication and the first step to changing the world
I recently wrote about how communication can prevent us from getting caught up in catastrophizing and its negative effects. But that’s not the only thing that communication can do for us. If we let it, communication can make a meaningful difference in our lives, the lives of others, and the world.
This weekend I participated in the Envisioning Equal Justice Summit, spearheaded by the driven and inspiring Melina Buckley, held here in Vancouver, and I witnessed firsthand the power of real communication.
At the Summit, members from all sectors of the Justice System gathered for two and a half days of real communication on a fundamentally important issue that affects us all: access to justice.
I feel like here I need to add a little clarification of what I mean by real communication. When I say real communication I mean communication that includes both genuine listening and open sharing; communication that involves getting a little vulnerable; communication that pushes the boundaries of what’s normally discussed and challenges the status quo; communication without ego or fear of stepping on toes; communication without judgment of where the ideas are coming from or who’s saying them; communication that includes frank discussion of pressing issues and the changes that we’d like to see for ourselves, others, our profession, the Justice System, and ultimately, the world we live in.
The Summit broke through the barriers of communication between the various players in the Justice System – from lawyers, judges, and legal aid / probono community members, to government officials, politicians, and media, to acedemics, professors, and law students, to public legal educators, court services, and business people, to social workers, system facilitators and administrators, and community members, including a world changing voice from the Aboriginal community, and many more. Even more amazing still: these members included representatives of every province and territory in our great country, as well as leaders in access to justice from all over the world.
Each of these players showed up and was meaningfully engaged in the discussion. As Chief Justice Finch so wisely noted, everyone put aside self-interest and gave up their personal time to participate. And participate they did, with their heads full of ideas to share, ears willing to listen, and hands and hearts open to working together for change.
There was talk by some of the speakers of the struggles the access to justice movement has faced since its inception many years ago, and of the search for a silver lining. But what was clear to me by the end of the Summit was that we had found it – the silver lining we were all searching for was each other.
Hope spread like wildfire.
Every room buzzed with excitement and there was a spark in the eyes of the hundreds of adults all around me not unlike the spark in a child’s eye on Christmas Eve.
So why was the Summit so powerful in instilling hope?
In my view, the answer is that players from all corners of our imperfect and sometimes failing system took the time to come together and have a conversation.
This is the type of communication that has real power.
Throughout the Summit I found my thoughts constantly returning to the power of communication and the unbelievable effect it was having on us all. It was truly more than just sharing of ideas. Here are some of the things I saw in conversations creating magic all around me:
Communication fosters creativity.
Communication encourages collaboration.
Communication cultivates trust.
Communication inspires and motivates.
Communication solves problems.
Communication creates hope.
Communication is a myth buster.
Communication brings us away from self-interest.
Communication enables acceptance of others.
Communication helps us feel like we’re not alone.
Communications forces us to see the other side of the coin.
Communication forces us to see that sometime the coin is not really a coin.
Communication builds friendships and partnerships.
Communication helps us overcome fears.
Communication gives us purpose and meaning.
Communication challenges outdated norms.
Communication makes us take responsibility for our actions.
Communication creates accountability.
Communication creates empathy and understanding.
Communication makes the impossible possible.
Communication is the first step to changing ourselves.
Communication is the first step to changing our lives and the lives others.
Communication is the first step to changing the world.
The changes that were talked about throughout the Summit were exactly those types of changes. Changes that would benefit everyone who touches the Justice System – from those who struggle to have access to it, to those that use it in its imperfect state, to those of us working in it who are often stressed out and discouraged by its archaic ways of operating, and to each and every citizen of Canada attempting to live within a system that too often hides from innovation and allows those most in need of its services to fall between the cracks.
After this weekend, I am renewed in my conviction that if we want to make any changes to our lives, this profession, or the world we live in, we need to talk about them. Not just the problems or the ideas, but the barriers to change, both internal and external. And we have to continue to talk about them or we will lose the courage, the momentum, the support, and the accountability necessary for action.
Without communication we will fall back into our hundred year old chairs, put our blinders back on, and let the dust settle back between the cracks.
When Justice Cromwell spoke to us all yesterday he reminded us that Martin Luther King’s famous speech did not start with “I have a plan”; it started with “I have a dream.” And I would add to that, that the only reason his dream took hold and grew into real changes was because he shared it.
Let’s keep sharing our dream. Let’s keep the blinders down. Let’s stop running from innovation and start embracing change together.
Our Justice System is weathered. Let’s not let it wear out completely.
Thank you to those that organized the Summit and brought us all together, and thank you to everyone who showed up and engaged in some real communication.
Let’s keep talking. Let’s make this real.