Best Practice: Build On Existing Engagement

For the majority of my life I have been involved in social justice movements of one form or another. I have protested, taught, spoke out, acted up, and buckled down in hard times again and again, wanting to challenge and change, transform and revolutionize the world I lived in. Learning early about the power of community organizing and radicalism, starting in 1989 some of my learning was colored by the lenses of Omaha’s history of Black nationalism, present-day anti-war activism, and desperately-needed neighborhood revitalization efforts.

I grew up inside of this sentiment, this idea that the world needed me to change it. Only within the last few years have I come to see the reality that was all around me: The world didn’t need me to change it; it doesn’t need me to do anything! One of my favorite artists, Ricardo Levins Morales, recently used an unattributed quote in a cool poster. The quote shares the principle that guides much of my love for the life I live right now: “Our calling is not to cross boundaries, defy restrictions, or escape compartments. It is to embrace a universe that does not admit their existence.”

Examining the action that I’ve seen, taught, and experienced that reflects that learning leads to the sixth best practice of engagement: 

Practice 6: Center On Personal-Driven Engagement.

When engagement is a deliberate process, we have the opportunity to start with where we’re at and extend from there. However, we should not reach so far as to release personal engagement. Understanding the interrelated nature of all engagement all the time, personal-driven engagement can allow us to evolve a wide-lens understanding of what engagement actually is. The quote from Morales’ poster alludes to this truth: Rather than struggling and fighting, we get to acknowledge the reality of all things always. From our small understanding can come love for life, and when we love the life we live right now we see the seamlessness of all things, always. 

Teaching about personal-driven engagement should start in our youngest years. Rather than preaching over-extension and self-sacrifice, we encourage teach children to follow their passions young and support them while they do that. This doesn’t mean always saying yes or agreeing, but instead providing appropriate and equitable experiences where they can establish their own understanding of what they’re connected to in lasting ways throughout their life. A person who is new to personal engagement can examine their understanding in a similar way by focusing on who, how, what, where, and when they’re already lastingly connected throughout their own lives.

Centering on personal-driven engagement allows us to acknowledge, accept, and appropriately challenge engagement that has not served us. There are engagements we may no longer want to keep, and this allows us to see those. Our previous experience and knowledge inform our understanding of the world as much as anything we “learn” from outside sources. This is true of engagement, too: Your previous knowledge, experience, determinations, and assumptions are driving your engagement right now whether you’re conscious of them or not. Building on existing engagement means seeing them deliberately and continuously throughout the rest of your life.

As we advance our understanding of engagement, we deliberately establish clear and equitable relationships with people and places throughout your life. That clarity may never be spoken, but in understanding engagement you’ll come to know true partnership with the world within you and around you. 

Ten Ways to Know You’re Engaged

  1. Name 10 things you’re personally engaged in less than a minute.
  2. Don’t fixate on what could be, instead letting yourself be where you are right now.
  3. Don’t let others’ opinions of your personal engagement stop you from being engaged.
  4. Allow yourself to be honest and open- with yourself.
  5. Know how to relax.
  6. Act with integrity towards the things you’re engaged in.
  7. Know how you want to evolve and express your engagements.
  8. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  9. Own your engagements, make them belong to you, right now.
  10. Know that whether you’re fish or the fisherman, engagement will always catch you.

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