When people proclaim to want to hear others’ voices, they’re often assuming that those people don’t want to or are incapable of doing anything other than sharing their voice. This includes schools that want to hear parents’ voices, youth-serving organizations that want to listen to youth voice, businesses that want customers to make token choices, and politicians that want to engage constituents’ voices.
These organizations often ignore the ability or deny the desire of people to have meaningful input in the things that affect them most. The problem with this is that today, more people more often want authentic opportunities to become engaged in the activities throughout their lives. Authentic means real, whole, true, and meaningful. People want to share their music with the world. They want to help the President get reelected. They want to help lead school reform, have more consumer choices for their broad tastes, and design the streets they walk, ride, and drive on. People want in like never before.
We have the technology, both electronic and real-time, to make this happen. We have a growing capacity throughout the vast array of community leadership to be able to engage people in these ways. We have the ability.
What we need is a non-cynical commitment to humanity and its capacity to serve itself best. What we need is for determination and perseverance to overcome sarcasm and irony. What we need is hope. Hope that people love and care and know and do. Hope that humans have justice and peace in their hearts, and because of that they want to make the world a just and peaceful place- if given the opportunity.
Instead, the organizations that peddle voice are often the most cynical. They most frequently steal voice for their own purposes, selling the people they serve on the effectiveness of sharing their voice. “You’ll help guide us,” they tell us as they take our opinions and squirrel them away in the backrooms of file cabinets and unpaid interns. We know they’re stealing voice when there is little or no accountability for what’s been shared with them. We know they’re stealing voice when they wrote their statement beforehand and used the collected voices to bolster their thoughts afterwards. We know when they’re stealing voice.
What is needed is truth, accountability, reciprocity, and engagement. Genuine, authentic, real engagement. Nothing less will suffice.
10 Ways Past Stealing Voices
- Acknowledge the real actions people are currently taking right now to change their communities and our world, and see how those actions affect your organization.
- Foster genuine interest within your organization to actually engage with people beyond listening.
- Create interest among constituents- whether young people, adults, or seniors- to contribute beyond their voices.
- Position people in sustained opportunities to impact change as real doers and decision-makers.
- Educate people about the whole issue that affects them, not just what they already know.
- Open places for everyone to teach one another and be acknowledged for what they’re sharing.
- Go to people where they’re at and have earnest conversations with them instead of insisting they come to where you are for inauthentic listening events.
- Develop activities that integrate and ingratiate neighbors with each other.
- Give people real opportunities to research the issues for themselves and to share their findings with their friends, families, neighbors, and others.
- Share the benefits of authentic engagement with people.
Are you a well-meaning but “guilty party” to what I described above? Maybe, like I have in the past, you’re trying your hardest and simply don’t know a different way. For years now, I’ve been writing to you to help you feel better about what you’re doing, I have shared dozens free websites, videos, and publications and done dozens of trainings for you, and I have provided free technical assistance to you. Now I’m going to stop that, at least for the remainder of this post.
If you’re with an organization that steals voice, or if you are any kind of a thief of voice, rest assured knowing that despite your best intentions the people who you’re stealing from know you’re stealing from them. You are the reason The Who wrote the song Won’t Get Fooled Again. You can do better than what you’re doing, and should stop resting on your laurels thinking you’re doing enough. We can never do enough to engage people in genuine, authentic, and real ways.
All people have the right to be more than given power by you. We have the right to be in the positions with the education we need to affect change throughout our lives. Nobody should be minimized because of your perception of their inability or your indifference to their interest. Blaming the organization you work for won’t work either, because we know that’s generally a hallow blame game that allows you to feel relief for your actions and opinions.
Nothing less will suffice.
If you’re upset, that is good, you should be. You should be upset with a system that set you up to fail. You should be disappointed with a program that was designed to manipulate, even inadvertently. Ultimately, you might even be mad at yourself- but that won’t serve much good. If you are angry with me for writing so bluntly, call me right now at (360) 489-9680. Let’s talk about this.
You’re a fighter- now get busy fighting.
Everyone of us is engaged right now. Whether you find great connection with your kids, the music you play, or the work you do, you are engaged right now. You may be engaged in challenging things like not having your bills paid, suffering through work, or wrestling in relationship to others, and you are engaged in those things. Anyway it goes, everyone of us is engaged right now.
So the question is not if we’re engaged, but what we’re engaged in. This leads to my next best practice in engagement.
Many well-meaning non-profit organizations and individuals look to get people into what they do. They look for volunteers who’ll serve their communities as tutors, house builders, tax form preparers, and board members. They hire staff who seem passionate and engaged. Politicians hope voters will care enough to rally around issues, and teachers think students want to learn what they’re teaching.
The reason why these and so many efforts to serve others fail is because the people who are being targeted aren’t actually engaged. The reason why they’re not engaged is because the person seeking to engage them didn’t build on the things those people were already engaged in.
More than 2,500 years ago Lao Tzu wrote, “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” This knowingness uses engagement to connect you in lasting ways to all that you know, all that you want, and who you are. This makes engagement so central to our existence as humans, and makes what we’re currently engaged in so central to our future engagements.
All programs that seek to engage people in something external to themselves are bound to fail if they don’t acknowledge what people are already engaged in right now. Imagine if every nonprofit, church, politician, teacher, doctor, and business sought to ultimately lead their communities, parishioners, voters, students, patients, and customers back to themselves. They would fulfill Rumi’s wise prescription: “I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.”
5 Questions to Acknowledging Personal Engagement
- What do you have lasting connections to within yourself right now?
- What do you have lasting connections to outsides yourself right now?
- Define what you think engagement means to you right now.
- What examples do you know of the people in your life that show different things people they’re engaged in right now?
- Identify what you’re engaged in right now.