5 – Consent, language, Upwording – with Rivca Rubin

Episode 5 explores consensual language. Jenny is in conversation with Rivca Rubin, instigator of Upwording: a global appeal for change to a desirable world for all by evolutionising thinking through everyday use of language. “Our communications today are still riddled with phrases and concepts that cultivate hierarchies and uphold inequalities. If our intention is to move to environments that nurture mutual benefit, promote autonomy and responsible living, we can choose to make active shifts in our intention and language that facilitate, rather than hinder this. When intention changes, the impact is instant – even very small changes create instant positive impacts with self and others.”


http://www.grandreunion.net/upwording/ – upwording podcast gives you full briefing on upwording

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Upwording and Consent Culture: See links to video recordings from the International Festival of Consent in 2020 – http://consentculture.co.uk/festival-of-consent/


Jenny Wilson 00:01
Welcome to the I Do Consent podcast recording this episode in November 2021. My guest today is Rivca Rubin, Rivca is working in the field of organizational team and personal development, from a guiding principle to increase care for each other, and ourselves, connecting to her belief in living life free from pressure. She is the initiator of Upwording a practice of evolutionising thinking through our everyday use of language towards a desirable world for all. She presents Upwording at international conferences, congresses, festivals, and to networks. She’s also a joint artistic director of Islington Mill in Salford near Manchester, a queering community, actively practicing care and wellbeing in a liberated free environment. Welcome Rivca.

Rivca Rubin 00:59
Welcome, Jenny.

Jenny Wilson 01:01
Hi So I thought it would be great to start by talking about the use of language, the everyday use of language and how that is around consent and our self consent in particular.

Rivca Rubin 01:22
Yeah. Yeah, so everyday use of language is what Upwording is focusing on. What Upwording is focusing on is to become aware of our habitual everyday use of language, so that we can notice where there are certain words or phrases that might be hindering or helpful to our communications with ourselves and each other, which include consent or include agreements. Or maybe preclude ..and the noticing of those particular words, would then invite a revealing or what concept might be underpinning the use of those words. So as an example, or maybe, let’s say, the point of Upwording is, the invitation of Upwording is for us to begin to notice how much authoritarianism, and let’s say concepts of superiority, or hierarchical positioning is alive and kicking well, in our everyday habitual, inherited use of language, without us realizing it most of the time.

Jenny Wilson 02:57
Yes, absolutely. So this is something that I’ve been talking about quite a bit in the concept of consent and consent culture, is this complex interplay between our self and the conversations we have with ourselves, and at an intimate interpersonal level, and the culture that we live within, which is patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist, etc. There are power structures and hierarchies in that culture that we’ve been socialized into, and are very embedded in the ways we communicate and the ways we think. So this kind of idea of being the change in the world really does start with the way we speak to ourselves and each other. So talk take us through some of the core ideas or examples in Upwording, can you Rivca? I mean, I know that we can signpost, people to the full kind of podcast of your own where you explain the full principles of Upwording, but in the short time, we’ve got a kind of whistle stop of some key ideas in Upwording.

Rivca Rubin 04:07
Yeah. So just adding, literally attaching it to what you just said before, I would say coercive, is a really big one, the belief that I have to make myself do things, I have to force myself do things. Otherwise, I won’t do anything. Or I have to make you and force you or others to do things and without that pressure, which you mentioned before. Without that pressure, there is a somehow a very I think quite hidden belief that actually unless we force people and pressure them, we’re lazy. It’s a deeply mistrusting of self and other. So what it does is provide an idea that you’ve got to have people and I’m using ‘got’ carefully here, you ‘have to’ have people in inverted commas, that run things, that manage things, that rule over people, because unless there is that hierarchy or positioning, the people will just run wild, they’ll be feral, they’ll be bad, they will do horrible things. So we’ve got to force them to do good things. Often that’s sort of a belief in there – there’s something around wanting people to be safe and happy. Unfortunately, that very forcing and coercing and pressurizing and making ourselves and others do things, which then also means we don’t wait for consent. (Yes.) Because that’s not the objective. It means that actually, it often facilitates the opposite: frustration, resistance. And actually, quite often there’s a resistance so that I actually won’t now do the thing that you want me to do, because you’re trying to force me…because so far, I have not yet met anybody who responds with motivation, delight and enthusiasm to coercion, interestingly enough, so that’s one element.

Jenny Wilson 06:27
So I mean, we, I think most of us when we think of coercion, think of something as.. think of things that are very dark and obvious and manipulative and so on. What you’re talking about is the subtle coercion of the times that (I know, because I’ve done some up wording practice with you). One of the big words for me that I notice a lot is ‘should’. “I really should do this, now”.. “we should give money to charity”, “we should get the washing up done”, “we should tidy the house”, “I should be getting up earlier”. And….

Rivca Rubin 07:10
Absolutely, so what there is, is also, there’s an added bit to that coersion. It’s a sort of a moralistic superior position of how to live life ‘correctly’, according to the speaker. Or if it is an internal voice, they’ll most likely be some externalized character, maybe a parental or carer character or a teacher or a societal one. So whilst it is our own voice, we might be hearing when I ‘should’ myself, it will be a representative of something that’s external… the most obvious would be religion. And it can be actually any externalized hierarchical, or even and of course, when we’re being ‘should-ed’ by others, or I ‘should’ you, “what you should really do is..” I am taking at that moment, a position above you – “I know what would be good or bad for you, what would be healthy or not, what would be right or wrong, and I shall dispense my wisdom upon you”… with a little bit of a pressure of ‘should’ – it’s not an invitation, tt’s like, “Well, it’s obvious”. And I definitely at this moment, could come across and might even think I know better than you do. So there’s a real implication that either is actually intended, or certainly can be heard, of implication… there’s real implication of stupidity, there can be, or wrongness, “therefore, I give you my uninvited advice”. So it’s in the category of advice. If we’re going to they’re sort of the pure coercion, coercive, then the representative words are more direct: they’ll be I, you, we “must” do this. And actually, when we take a little bit of time, we might go “Oh, according to whom?” “Who says?” “How come?” and that’s the bit that Upwording wants to invite us to do, is just do a little check. Going A: must I? must we? Or is it that the moment we are doing something we have made a decision to do it? So the externalized becomes then actually an internal. Or is it maybe that actually maybe I no longer wish to do this? I don’t want to do that thing that I tell myself I ‘must’ always tell our team we ‘must’. So ‘must’, ‘have to’, ‘need to’ is a little sneaky one – sounds like your basic human need – it’s still a real push. Our ‘we need to do that’. And ‘we’ve got to’. Yeah. I know I do quite a lot of those in pressured situations, around parenting, for example, “you ‘need’ to get dressed because we ‘have to’ go” yeah. And what’s the result of that? when you’re in a pressured situation and you use the ‘need’and ‘have to’?

Jenny Wilson 10:09
It just adds to the stress, it adds to the pressure.. it shares, it puts that pressure on my child as well as myself. It doesn’t necessarily result in anything happening more quickly.

Rivca Rubin 10:21
No. So if you want more pressure in your life, more stress, absolutely up on the ‘need to’, ‘have to’, ‘must do’s. So unfortunately, when we feel pressure coming from the outside, and when you gave my little introduction, I’m really talking about the self induced pressure or the pressure we inadvertently are giving others, by that turning the what we feel as a pressure (getting to school) into even more pressure.

Jenny Wilson 10:49
How do we how do we Upword that then – let’s take that example, Rivca and you know if anyone’s listening and going ‘well, how do I change this? What do I? I’ve noticed the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts’ and the ‘have tos’… What how do I…?

Rivca Rubin 11:04
Decrease the pressure? I think, ideally, have a conversation outside that moment. Which is around all the elements of life that you have, (you’re talking about family at the moment) that are important to you. That might be getting to work, whether you’re employed or self employed, or exercise, or learning, etc, and have a conversation with child about how can those be managed in the way that they’re more joyful and delightful, ideally all the time… and are actually underpinned by conscious choice making. So I might not be every day feeling like “Yeah, I can’t wait to go to school”. However, I might be the child that goes, “Yeah, I actually do want to go to school, I do want to learn this, I want to meet my friends, etc. So therefore the daily going to school is a decision I’ve made, we have made. And we’d like to do it in a time, in a way that is not pressurizing for either for any person. So how can we do that?”, which also means that you’re more likely, and I’ve seen that happen over and over again, that child/person will, will be much more self managed. (Yes) because you’re agreeing a time by which you want to leave the house in order to drop off person to school, and you go to where you want to go. So there is an equality in that relationship.

Jenny Wilson 12:29
I mean, I have been practicing this with my child who’s 10. And I’ve noticed that lately, she increasingly uses phrases like, ‘I want to’, even for things that I would have perceived as things that that are.. things that previously I might have had to, well, coerce her into doing, like, “I want to tidy my bedroom, because I want to tidy room to be in” or you know, those kinds of things. And also, ‘I can’ is another one that she does quite a lot now.

Rivca Rubin 13:04
So somewhere to move to the ‘want to’, or other versions would be ‘prepared to’, ‘willing to’, when it’s not the most exciting task, it still is decision inspired, it’s choice driven, which is not the same as having lots of choices. So ‘want to’, ‘be willing to’, ‘prepared to’, ‘would like to’, ‘love to’, ‘can’t wait to’ means that the little moment has happened where I’m going.. Well, I’m letting go. It’s a radical letting go of, (I’ll quote you from what you’ve just said), “I had to coerce”, to realizing ‘I don’t have to coerce, I can actually have conversation or engagement for us to find a mutually suitable way of doing things or agreement’. That means that when autonomy is not threatened autonomy, freedom and choices are threatened however little a person is, as soon as they understand language, really, I’d say… then we are more likely to get engagement and a willing cooperation, a willing member of that team, in this case house team, of doing things together. What may happen is that child/ person goes ‘actually I don’t want’ and that is a bigger conversation around.. let’s use the word consequences. So what what could happen if… and what are the alternatives and we can explore are there other ways? Again, more likely, a person or child is going to go around to go and ‘you know what, actually I do want to go to school there’s certain things I don’t like about it’. If really child does not want to go to school, then it probably be really worth hearing that because something will be going on either there or inside child. And I would go please don’t ignore.

Jenny Wilson 14:57
Yes, yes. It’s that process, isn’t it? It’s a practice, really, like consent is a practice. This practice of noticing the language that we’re using is very helpful because it helps us understand, not just noticing the words we’re using and sort of going, ‘Oh, no, I’ve said should I shouldn’t have said should’ .. i’m shoulding myself about shoulds all over the place, to notice the intention behind you know, when I’m shoulding myself, then there’s a choice to be made, there is a consent to happen there. Well, may be I do feel I should tidy my bedroom, do I want to tidy my bedroom? Will I tidy my bedroom? When will I tidy my bedroom?

Rivca Rubin 15:47
Yeah. And that’s another sort of fellow Upworder, said actually sometimes just put time into it. And just ‘I AM tidying my bedroom’. ‘I am picking up the phone’, ‘I am clearing the garden’, ‘I am doing the bins’. It may not even require a sort of inviting, exciting word ‘I’d love to’. I’m just doing it. And even that, by removing the ‘must/have to /need to’ there is a step taken from externalizing responsibility, that external dictat, which also means that eventually I’ll become really unhappy. And I will blame all those who are making me do all those things. Because it’s external, I haven’t somehow consciously actually gone, ‘I’m actually taking that action’. So. So when we do a lot of… it’s related to obedience, really, if we start.. If we’re, if we’re obeying, if we’re teaching to obey, then we might want to consider that what can happen is people go, “but it’s not my fault. I only followed orders. I just did as told it’s not my responsibility”. So what inadvertently were teaching by saying, ‘obey me because I’m bigger, stronger, older, wiser, etc’, is ‘don’t think… do as told… it’s not your responsibility’. So there’s more complexity around that externalized dictat, and finally, also, as a colleague, friend said, when I come out of ‘have to’, I externalize responsibility and control, when I come out of ‘choose to’ or ‘want to’, or ‘decide to’, I internalize responsibility and control, I am in responsibility, I am in charge. And therefore I think, to go into consent, I am much more likely to be aware of the impact that my actions, my words, may have on others that I know and others beyond that. I’m more likely to start considering others in my immediate decisions, because I’m taking full responsibility for what I do.

Jenny Wilson 18:04
Absolutely. I mean, consent is, it is about use of that personal agency, isn’t it? And if we are encouraging people to shift that responsibility and accountability on to the person they’re obeying, then that’s giving up that personal agency, it’s giving up that choice, that agreement that consent. So we end up outside of consent very quickly, when we use that kind of coercive language. I think the other the other core principle, I’d like to touch on fairly briefly, because I’m conscious of time is, is the one of the use of words like ‘always’, and ‘never’, and how that gets us into sort of fixed ways of thinking. And, and if we’re about changemaking, which a lot of this work around consent is, then using those absolutes is very…

Rivca Rubin 19:05
yeah, and you mentioned earlier, can’t or can. So those absolutes or like, I’d call them the, the limiting words. So when when we do go into the ‘always’ or the ‘never’ and ‘everyone’ and ‘no one’, it is a generalization. And yet at the same time, we’ve been talking for a long time about let’s not use generalizations, and yet they are in the everyday language. It’s easy to kind of go ‘let’s not’… there’s quite a step to literally ‘not’… by noticing them and replacing them. So a real example is I, “when this happens, I always… respond in that way”, or “I always feel like that”. And actually if we unpack it and just stop for a moment, is it really, that every time this happens, I ‘always’ respond in that way. If I go ‘I always get seasick on a boat’, I’m giving myself a self fulfilling prophecy. I’ve decided that it is so and will be so. I’ve looked into the future, into the looking glass and I’ve decided I will always be seasick. Actually, is that correct? Is it that every time I’ve stepped my foot on the boat, I’ve felt sick? No. So I could begin to open this up. And I’d say the trick here is to open that ‘always’ is to go, has it always happened? Or has it never? Is it? Or is it being every one or no one? Actually, no, it’s ‘sometimes’ in ‘some people’ and ‘at certain moments’, and then go past tense, “I have experienced”. And then ‘I have felt in those moments’. So it opens up the possibility for something else to happen.

Jenny Wilson 20:46
Yes, because even if, even if it is that every time you’ve stepped on a boat, you felt seasick….erm that’s, so far, that’s been your experience so far. So putting that, you know, it’s not ‘I always’ it’s ‘up until now my experience is’

Rivca Rubin 21:04
Yeah so ‘up until now, every time I remember’, (I’d even put that in there somehow, to open it up more) ‘every time I remember being on a boat hat moved, I felt sick to a greater or lesser extent’, that’s up until now. So maybe it could be different. And this, by the way, is a personal example, where I did do that with myself. And then I went on a boat, and I wasn’t sick at all. And now either that’s pure coincidence, or miracle or definitely something, you know, happened there. So in the same with the ‘can’t’, maybe the can’t is, ‘I can’t yet’, ‘if I really want to.. do I really want to? Well, if I put some time into it and some focus, and I do a practice, every day, I could’. Or maybe the can’t is a stand in for ‘I don’t want to’. And we could be honest and go ‘Do you know what I don’t want to, I don’t want to learn to do accounting. There are people who love it. I don’t wish to’

Jenny Wilson 22:07
or ‘I don’t want to learn to play the piano’, you know the ‘I can’t play the piano’. Or ‘I can’t play the piano well enough to perform on a stage’. (Yeah). But I could learn to play the piano that well, if I try

Rivca Rubin 22:21
“I don’t play the piano”. It’s just a statement of…. So a lot of the Upwording is about being becoming descriptive, rather than prescriptive – a ‘should’ is a prescription and liberating rather than limiting.. and motivating. An invitation, a request, is definitely motivating because it facilitates the possibility of a ‘no’. But when we go into again consent, as soon as the possibility of the No is there consideration can happen and I may well give a really consciously considered willing, yes. Which I may revoke tomorrow, or in five minutes. What I.. rather than feeling ‘I ought to’ ‘have to’ ‘should do’ because I don’t know ‘because others do it, etc’. I mean, those are two areas of Upwording. There are more

Jenny Wilson 22:56
Yes. And we haven’t got time to cover them all in one podcast, perhaps I’ll have you back as another, a guest at another time to talk around some of the other ways that we’re developing projects together around Upwording and some of the innovations around those crucial critical conversations that I know you’re working on, for example, with Charles… I think I think we should probably wrap it up there from the point of view of the time we’ve got today. But it’s been really fascinating

Rivca Rubin 23:45
Should we do that Jenny, should we or would we like to?

Jenny Wilson 23:49
I think it’s time so let’s. And I will add to the end of this podcast, the links and things where people can find out more about Upwording and listen to your full podcast that takes people through all of the principles that are core to upwording if they want to find out more. Before we say goodbye. I’ve been asking people in the run up to the Day of Consent on the 30th of November. If you had one message for the International Day of consent Rivca. What would your message be?

Rivca Rubin 24:28
The one that’s really alive with me is a decision to do some radical letting go. And it might be that we can radically let go of the whole concept and the word ‘normal’. And I’ve just written here before ‘abdicate the norm’. It’s a little play on abnormal, you know, because if we let go of normal we also don’t get the abnormal and in relation to where we started, pressure…we could let go of the belief that stress is an acceptable part of living and working.

Jenny Wilson 25:11
Wouldn’t that be nice? That’s a good invitation. Thank you very much Rivca for spending this time with us today, and goodbye.

Rivca Rubin 25:23
Thank you very much Jenny.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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