US Military protocol is almost entirely unappealing to me. The hierarchical structure and the chain of command really don’t adhere to my ideals of hyperlinked networks and free communication. The idea of classified documents or need to know information is counterintuitive in an era of Open ID and Web Search. And yet, there is one thing that continues to intrigue me: The simple custom and protocol of asking to speak freely when in the presence of superior.
This is such a valuable tool and it has almost no corollary in civilian life. Perhaps it is because we lack the rigid chain of command or code of conduct, but our expectation is that we can speak freely. In fact, we regularly go on about our opinions for most of the meetings and conversations we have with one another. We don’t hold our tongues or seek the guidance of others before we speak.
And it is this fact that we lack a line in the sand beyond which we cannot speak that we are perhaps even more bound in our speech. Because we do not know our place and time to contribute, we end up subconsciously filtering what we say along to coincide with all of the platforms and expectations already in place within our institutions. For example, if I am being overtly collaborative and sharing a Google document with others, I have to consider each domain and email address I am inputting. Even if I am sharing it as a link, others see where I created it from and what the context for that creation was.
We are tied to our context in a way that both does not require us to ask permission to take part and does not grant us permission to say the things we would if we weren’t an extension of our company or school district. We are the outstretched hands of our entities and we can’t escape that. Our meetings would be more collegial if we could ask one another for permission to step out of our own roles and speak as individuals.
Even if we are relaxed and social, even if we don’t have to worry about insubordination, and even if we aren’t working on the types of sensitive information that military officials claim, we need a system for asking one another to be unaffiliated, to be human with one another. Opinions are not all equal unless we can ask for them without bias and agenda.
Perhaps we just need a signal, a sign on the door or a label in digital spaces: “Free Speaking going on in here. Be people, first and foremost and last of all.”
Or, perhaps we need to designate a specific time and space for free speech, where everyone agrees to the rules of abandoning hierarchy and institutional pretense.
I have great respect for the leveling that happens in Twitter and on Blogs, but I still think that we are tied to and weighed down by our public identities in those places. We need a way to say “Permission to speak freely ” with one another and have that mean something. We need to be able to define the lines that we assume aren’t there because we are on the civilian side and then we need to give them up sometimes. We need to identify the limitations of our personas and put them aside when they get in the way. Only in that space and time will we truly be able to share everything and collaborate on what matters most: changing things for the better, no matter where you are starting from or who you supervise.