Jazz Wisdom for the Digital Age #1 – Acknowledge Others

Jazz musicians are extremely skilled collaborators. Jazz musicians who are complete strangers can create thoughtful and beautiful new music together in an instant. This is partly because they share a language but more importantly because they share a dialogical skillset. They have mastered the rules of collective improvised conversation between strangers.

Whereas those of us who were raised in literate culture have never even learned many of those rules. We need instruction.

Down at both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Toronto I have seen people failing in a few basic tasks when it comes to collective improvised conversation. And although there has been a lot of emphasis on collaborative self-organization in the Occupy movement, and a lot of acknowledgement of the goodwill required to build together from scratch, the fact is that if the Occupiers had better oral skills they would accomplish more.

Drawing on the lessons in collaborative self-organization that jazz music provides, here is one important tip for Occupiers:

Acknowledge everyone. When jazz musicians improvise music together, nobody is left out. Everyone acknowledges everyone in conversation, sometimes subtly but always willingly, naturally. If you have ever walked a quiet country road or a green path in a highly oral culture, you know what I mean. Not saying hi to a passing stranger is unthinkable. Yet as literate children we are socialized to treat others anonymously. And so that’s what we do down at the Occupy sites. Even though anonymity is how we got into this mess in the first place!

And you may say “Yes, but we have our fabulous mic-check technique to include and reach everyone. And this is true to a degree. But I can tell you from experience that you can walk around those Occupy sites for quite some time with a smile on your face before someone engages you. Simply shouting things at people is not a good oral acknowledgement. A more direct and engaging invitation to join this instant community will result in much more engagement from well-meaning visitors, resulting in more support, more opportunities, more networks, more skills, more love, etc.

SO: at Occupy sites there should be designated greeters responsible for greeting people and inviting them to share their energy, ideas and resources.

Here is a great video clip of a jazz musician acknowledging and being acknowledged by the other players present.


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