Julia Bartz

Gloria Steinem’s Comm Tips from My Life on the Road

Blog Post created by Julia Bartz Employee on May 10, 2016

I recently read Gloria Steinem’s fantastic memoir, My Life on the Road, published in late 2015. Gloria recounts her decades filled with extensive traveling--there are many years in which she’s not home for more than eight days at a time.


Throughout the book, Gloria shares her belief in the power of communication that is in-person, non-hierarchical, and honest. From the first chapter, she notes her travels as showing her this necessity, in order to find out what’s really going on in the country:


“I discovered something I might never otherwise have learned: people in the same room understand and empathize with each other in a way that isn’t possible on the page or screen.”


Gloria learned about the power of listening and specifically talking circles from a trip to India in her twenties:


“It was the first time I witnessed the ancient and modern magic of groups in which anyone may speak in turn, everyone must listen, and consensus is more important than time. I had no idea that such talking circles had been a common form of governance for most of human history, from the Kwei and San in southern Africa, the ancestors of us all, to the First Nations on my own continent, where layers of such circles turned into the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest continuous democracy in the world. Talking circles once existed in Europe, too, before floods, famines, and patriarchal rule replaced them with hierarchy, priests, and kings. I didn’t even know, as we sat in Ramnad, that a wave of talking circles and “testifying” was going on in black churches of my own country and igniting the civil rights movement. I certainly didn’t guess that, a decade later, I would see consciousness-raising groups, women’s talking circles, giving birth to the feminist movement.”


When beginning to speak in front of audiences, Gloria suffered debilitating stage fright. She partnered with another speaker and friend in order to overcome this, and learned other ways to combat her anxiety:


“Since we had been successful one on one, Dorothy suggested we speak to audiences as a team. Then we could each talk about our different but parallel experiences, and she could take over if I froze or flagged. Right away we discovered that a white woman and a black woman speaking together attracted far more diverse audiences than either one of us would have done on our own. I also found that if I confessed my fear of public speaking, audiences were not only tolerant but sympathetic. Public opinion polls showed that many people fear public speaking even more than death. I had company.”


Eventually, Gloria became comfortable in front of audiences. She continued to speak (and still does) at college campuses, which only affirmed her view of the importance of speaking to an audience face-to-face:


“If there is one thing that these campus visits have affirmed for me, it’s that the miraculous but impersonal Internet is not enough. As in the abolitionist and suffragist era, when there were only six hundred or so colleges with a hundred students each—and itinerant organizers like the Grimké sisters, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth traveled to speak in town halls, granges, churches, and campgrounds—nothing can replace being in the same space.”


Clearly, Gloria’s years on the road taught her many lessons about the most powerful and effective forms of communication. I’ll end with a quote that sums up all of this communication wisdom:


“If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.”