Communication is how we choose to define our reality, and how we choose to depict it for others. It’s a communication of priorities, from the senseless, to the significant, from the subtle and subconscious to the overt and impassioned. Communication does nothing other than define what kind of reality we are choosing individually, and societally in the amalgam.

And communication has defined for us a reality that rewards people disproportionately, and convinces us that it’s our fault if we haven’t been rewarded. I think the ways in which we choose to communicate will either uphold the systems that we so desperately need to rethink and rework, or destabilize it.

Reality is merely an agreement. It’s a concept devoid of empirical individualized scrutiny, but rather a series of social agreements we make. For example, very few of us have empirically measured the earth rotating around the sun. So why is it that the vast majority of us believe this to be reality? It’s because our reality is formed from social agreements. Most of us trust our scientists, who have empirically measured the earth rotating around the sun.

Why is it then that many people ignore or deny the suffering of others, and fail to acknowledge racism, and the flawed systems that empower some while disempowering many? It’s because we’re not communicating effectively.

I believe communication gaps are typically twofold: 1) Method (language and semantics) and 2) context (framing, our decided reality). We’ve seen technology buttress the methodological communication gaps. We can now translate in real time between any languages or tools (memes, gifs, emojis, etc) to simplify semantic challenges. But we haven’t yet cracked the context communication gap, and we’re beginning to see the existential threat of not being able to bridge the contextual differences that keep our world divided and polarized, irreconcilably.

People tend to choose their context based on what’s advantageous to them as individuals. And at this point in time, there seems to be little reason to grant “truth” to the suffering of many at the hands of a flawed system.

And it seems like it’s been more advantageous for us to glamorize the stories of fame and success than the stories of collective suffering. I think this is because we’re all holding hope that we can become the aberration, we can become the one who finds a way out of suffering, pain, and injustice — an individualistic myopia!

The stories we prioritize become a version of reality, reinforced. With each story, the chosen “reality” is harder reality to overturn. And we are choosing the wrong stories. In our chosen reality, we demonize those who suffer as “those who don’t work hard enough”, and those who complain as “those who need to change their mindset”.

While gratitude is a form of communication that signals how the defined reality supports our wellbeing, complaint holds perhaps a greater collective utility.

Complaint, when it is directed towards the system (rather than individuals), helps pinpoint the many ways in which our agreed upon reality is failing us. Complaint can be the genesis of liberation – through a process of demolishing and rebuilding longer lasting narratives and better systems. The inequities we face are vast, and I believe there isn’t enough complaining commensurate to the urgency of reconstructing a better system.

John Wooden says that “Champions never complain, they are too busy getting better.” Here’s what John Wooden is missing — getting “better” should not always entail conforming to the flawed system. And that’s exactly what it always does. If you’re someone who grew up with little, in a system that has labeled you as inferior and continues to signal your lack of importance, the stories you’ll be pitted against are the stories of those who distanced themselves from the collective suffering of their people, who “stopped complaining” and bent themselves into someone that could benefit from the system that progenated their inferiority.

John Wooden is wrong. I don’t think “getting better” should equate to acquiescing to the systems which oppress, or fighting others to get a scrap. I believe “getting better” means rising to your power, as an individual and as a member of the collective, to call forth, and to demand a more equitable system. “Getting better” means to not give the current system a morsel of your power and value. It means reserving your power for the demolition, and reconstruction. To remember your worth. To remember to dream, and to protect your dignity against the learned-helplessness that the current system so brilliantly promulgated amongst your people.

Even Maya Angelou, when she says, “If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” forgets that true liberation only happens in the collective. While it’s true that individually, the fastest path to success is to force your way within the current system, and to take jabs at whoever might get in the way of you threading that needle, I prefer dreaming about success being more than becoming the individual outlier, the aberration of your community, or the “exception to the rule”. I dream of success equating to collectively building a new system where all my brothers and sisters are successes from the day they are born, where they don’t have to earn it, or don’t have to dream that one day they might become a success if their hard work and luck happen to coincide. And in this new system their being is whole, and valued, they are owed the guarantee, for no other reason than their humanity, to be taken care of by the rest of us, to become their wildest dreams without it being deemed a hallucination.

Communication grants us this power. Communication gives us the ability to define our reality, and the ammunition to defy the demands of the current model, to demolish and to reconstruct a new reality. Whether it’s a complaint, or a dream, we should choose to use communication, with power, in ways that help manifest the future we all so desperately deserve.

at the nexus of media and behavior change, founder @PathosLabs