Before you try to connect another person to an issue in the world that needs fixing- like hunger, environmentalism, school reform, or the economy- it is vital to ensure they are connected within themselves.
I have discovered this important lesson over the last 20 years of my career. Working with young people from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds in a lot of different settings, I found that the kids who had lasting connections to what mattered most to them were able to form deep connections to the world around them.
I call forming these lasting connections within ourselves personal engagement. Personal engagement is when we form sustaining connections to the world within and around ourselves.
A person who has felt a lifelong deep need to write poetry is personally engaged in poetry. When I’m trying to raise funds to support my nonprofit organization, I want to do more than simply squeeze $10 dollars from this poet.
Instead, I want to form a lasting connection between them and my nonprofit, and in the course of their giving experience I want them to see their gradual donations increase while becoming personally engaged with the success of the young people I work with. In order to do that, I need to find out what that donor is already personally engaged with, such as poetry. Once I find that out, I can find a connection between poetry and serving youth.
Between those points, I will work to nurture that relationship. But when I find a point when participants in my program are learning about free form poetic verse, perhaps I invite this donor to give a reading, or sit in class, or individually coach the learners.
Whatever way I approach it, I have leveraged that person’s personal engagement in order to support their community engagement. This approach is essential if I want to create lasting connections with people, no matter what your field, activity, issue, or outcomes.
If you are a parent who wants your children to engage within your house and family, find out what they care about and tap into that. If you are a teacher who wants to reach your students more effectively, identify what they’re personally engaged in and connect through that.
Personal engagement is the key to community engagement, whether with adults or young people.
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Adam Fletcher is available to train, coach, speak, and write about Personal Engagement across the US and Canada. Contact him to learn about the possibilities!