A large part of my job as an advocate for engaging young people throughout society is to influence people. I want to influence children and youth to get them to become engaged; I want to influence adults to get them to engage with young people. I take this charge excitedly, because I know its here that my abilities are strongest and the challenges can be greatest.
Sometimes in workshops I talk about influencing others with an analogy. One of them is about the raft on the river. Basically, youth engagement is a river, and on that river you have rocks, rafts, barges and speedboats.
- Speedboats understand youth engagement and will not stop or challenge our efforts to promote engaging young people as partners. These folks need minimal support, and when they do its merely in the form of acknowledgment and resources.
- Rafts don’t understand youth engagement, but once they understand they move forward and want to do it. These people need education, and the opportunity to see youth engagement in action. Once they are going along they may need some prompting, pushing and pulling, but they’re going upriver and they will get there, eventually.
- Barges understand youth engagement and oppose it. These folks are challenged to see the advantage of engaging young people, and they are challenged to understand the breadth of its impact. When they do understand, they are against it, and the inherent assumptions that lie behind it.
- Rocks don’t understand youth engagement and oppose it, and once they do understand it they continue to oppose it. They are not sympathetic, and they do not offer “win-win” compromises.
The challenge with each of these archetypes is that they all embody some prospect for hope; simaltaneously, they also show serious challenges for advocates. Because of their enthusiasm and commitment, speedboats can wear people out and make newcomers feel unwelcome or incapable. Rafts may be easily defeated and slide towards bargeness quickly, while barges can exhaust or distract speedboats or rafts. Meanwhile, rocks often act as “hole-makers” in the river, taking down other boats that are striving to make the journey.
In talking in workshops and speeches I’ll often confess to focusing almost solely on speedboats and rafts. There are too few advocates who are working to engage young people, and a lot of misunderstanding. The rocks I have tried to work closely with were in high-level positions of authority in large agencies, forcing me to give undue credence to their opinions. So I have learned that we have to balance all those differing perpsectives, and to pay attention to priorities. Today those priorities focus on supporting folks where they are, rather than insist they go somewhere else. What do you think? Who are the “speedboats” in your life? Do you still wrestle with the “rocks”?