Simone Witney with Sam Kinch and Jon Dunham

Mary Beard – a jackal?
Throughout Mary Beard’s: ‘Women in Power, a Manifesto’, she represents Ancient Greek myth as proof of a predominant, centuries-old desire of men to crush women. She ignores any evidence, of which there is a great deal, to the contrary.  After listening to her talk, delivered in her ‘don’t mess with me, I’m a Cambridge don’ style, this feels very like the kind of patriarchal behaviour which she loves to oppose.

The conditions for constructive conversation are civility, respect and willingness to listen. Unequal power relations are not conducive, but adopting the language of the more powerful aggressor isn’t the answer.


Jackals and Giraffes
According to the psychologist and mediator Marshall. B. Rosenberg, whose work has generated centres for Non-Violent Communication across the world, we have been trained for centuries to use a language of blame and judgement: “jackal” language. The tragedy of jackals, he says, is that they always ask for things in a way which guarantees they won’t get them. Using a tone of accusation and resentment leads immediately to division and entrenched opposition.  What he calls giraffe language, however,  restores connection by trying to find out what is really going on with the other person. After establishing points of common humanity, disagreements become fairly easy to resolve. In my experience, people recognise very quickly if you are present and engaged with what they are saying in a disinterested way (which doesn’t mean not interested, it means without an agenda.)

Is Ms. Beard a jackal? Does it matter when she misrepresents Greek culture? Well, among all the arts it’s especially rich in symbolism and nuance, in stories of people messing up in really interesting ways and its distance from us creates a safe place in which we can explore complexity and develop empathy and imagination. Essential to the process is respect for the material and its particularity, ie having a willingness not to reduce it to simple ideas which belong to our own culture, but to allow it to be what is is.

Open spaces open minds
Just as communities need their open green spaces, like our own Alexandra Park (managed but not tamed), they need events which allow creativity to flourish and these need a management style which is as far from self-interest and autocracy as you can get. There are many groups in our town whose ethos is one of inclusivity, but I want to focus on two.

1.Passions at the Bar
The Bavard Bar is a monthly event at the Kino-teatr, in which you can talk on any of your passions. This is a space in which there are huge freedoms:  topics range from the design of public toilets to the history of Chung Ling Soo, a Scottish magician of the 19th century; from a journey up the highest walkable mountain to a journey to find pure Trinidadian cacao. You can be deeply moved and inspired, listening to what life is like if you have a severely autistic child then find yourself caught up in circuit bending ( a way of creating a new sound palette) – both utterly compelling.

There is a structure but it’s minimal. Like all the best design, it’s simple and has built-in flexibility that allows for change and growth. The format is: three speakers, 15 minute slots, 12 slides, and a couple of audience participation games: KP Lite and Oojah Kappivvy, which are completely voluntary and sometimes don’t happen. Tim Crook hosts the event with the same fine balance of form and spontaneity. He prepares material, but wings it on the night. He’s adept at gauging audience mood, so I suspect some micro-managing of the energies in the room goes on undetected. Criteria for the selection of speakers is again minimal: clothes must be worn, but any style is fine. Incoherence and ranting are subtly and respectfully discouraged beforehand, but hesitation and technical maladroitness on the night are all part of the mix. The spirit of generosity and embracing of the unplanned which run through this event allows people to give of their best, for the standard of speakers is impressive. The fact that performers are booked for months ahead and audience numbers are consistently high suggests we are naturally drawn towards this event, which has form, but isn’t formulaic.

2. Passionate HIPsters
Like the Bavard Bar, HIP runs on informality and mutual respect. There’s no autocratic editorial voice. There’s no editor. There are nine – one for each of the sections; essentially editorial decisions rest with the individual section editors. We communicate, we discuss, and rare conflicts are quickly resolved. Anyone can come to our meetings. We’re a mix of ages, experience and talents. Politically we range from neutral to left wing (balancing that other paper), but we are committed to fair representation and inclusivity. How did it all start? I’ll let one of the founders take centre stage.

Sam Kinch: “The Independent is, has been and likely always will be an immense source of pride for me and no doubt everyone who has helped to make it what it is today.

“We started, 100 editions and roughly four years ago, in a murky pub on Cambridge Road (TUBLYF TILL I DIE YO), with a bee in our bonnet and absolutely no clue what we were doing. A number of us had been recently aggrieved after the Hastings O******r had written a factually inaccurate and morally bankrupt front page about a mutual friend. After organising a short-lived but effective  boycott campaign (we secured a printed apology following a sit-down meeting with the chief editor and a decidedly lazy journalist), we quickly came to realise we weren’t the only people fed up with the ‘quality’ of our only local newspaper  and as numbers grew at our weekly public strategy meetings, we soon realised we needed to do something bigger to address the issue.

“Now it’s worth realising at this point the our meetings had originally coincided with the early days of Hastings Anarchists weekly meetings, and thus we numbered a fair few lefty radicals, a number of slightly unhinged pub regulars, a few local creatives looking decidedly confused and a puppy Staffordshire bull terrier called Tilly. Nary a soul amongst us
with a background in publishing, and barely a GCSE or O-level between us.”

And now over to Jon Dunham who will only lay claim to tidal times and ‘a bit of advertising’ but keeps everything afloat and all of us sweet

“The majority of community newspapers do not reach issue 12 due to lack of finance, lack of time or internal disagreements. Hastings Independent has been through all this but now we are celebrating our fourth anniversary as well as our 100th edition. Our constitution is to enthuse political debate, promote the town in a positive light, spotlight local creativity in the arts and business and offer work experience and media training to volunteers and students.”

I’m constantly getting positive feedback about the quality of the writing in the paper, but if you feel under-represented or want to contribute, come to a meeting. Mondays at 6.30pm, Hastings Works at 18 Robertson Street, email any of us (see inside front page ) or meet me at Bonjour 9.30-10.30 23rd, 24th, 25th April.


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