The Jewels of Engagement

So many people are raising the flag around “engagement” now. They call for student engagement and political engagement and social engagement. They call for consumer engagement and voter engagement.

But they aren’t talking about marriage though, and maybe that’s what is missing in the conversation. In the heart of a marriage proposal, or engagement, a seed is planted. It’s the investment of people into each other’s life, and when it is right, it’s a promise of commitment.

I believe that is always how it should be when we should talk about engagement, as the sustained connections a person has within or outside themselves. After more than 20 years working to promote engagement in schools, nonprofits, and throughout communities, I have come to understand that engagement is the highest order in the work of any social worker, educator, counselor, or religious teacher. But personally, I also know its the highest order of work for me. Engagement is the core stuff of life.


Wrestling through a curriculum full of standards and assessments, it can be easy for a classroom teacher to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of their job. Every school today is expected to provide a gamut of social services, health services, nutritional services, counseling services, leadership development, and physical activity to students. This is, of course, in addition to the education they provide in the classrooms, hallways, and libraries that are strategically located in schools, too.

Every human service provider in society faces similar struggles, too. Regulations, populations, commercialization, and alienation stare at everyone who serves humans in any form. Social workers, youth workers, police, doctors, politicians, desk clerks, fast food workers, case workers, mental health therapists, drug and alcohol counselors… A lot of people say their work is simply too demanding. Parents, grandparents, and neighbors often say the same, too. It seems that society is at a mutual boiling point of busyness and over-stimulation.

What gets lost in that grim reality is the purpose of living, the experience of humanity. However, among us are many people who already know that. They stay focused on the purpose of living: engagement: We are alive in order to create sustained connections within and outside ourselves.

Each of us can have sustained connections to art, family, nature, reading, the Universe, our hometown, or ourselves. We all can meditate, dance, dialogue, sing, drive, walk, or write in order to connect within or outside ourselves. Teachers can teach engagement, but only after they are engaged within themselves. 

There is no point in trying to engage another person until you have a sustained connection within yourself, either. That “sniff test” you use to tell whether someone is telling the truth works here too: People know whether you’re actually engaged. They can smell it.

So quit looking at the world around you and insisting it change. Instead, get into yourself. As Rumi wrote, “Stop searching here and there. The jewels are inside you.” These are the jewels of engagement, and they’re yours, now.

Note: This post was originally published on Cooperative Catalyst as “Getting Real About Engagement“.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!
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