Earlier this week I introduced the idea that there are best practices in engagement
. Here is the first explanation of what those best practices look like.
Practice 1: Help People See What They’re Engaged in Within Their Own Lives.
All people are already engaged in their own lives right now. Its that simple. There is no need for you or your organization to engage anyone in anything. You might want to engage people, but you don’t need to, no matter what you think.
That said, one of the best practices in engagement is to begin with personal engagement, that is, the lasting connections people have within themselves. The best practice of most programs as they begin engaging people is to ask people to identify what they’re already connected to within themselves and throughout the world around them, right now. They brainstorm those connections, list them out, create a mind map, and do whatever they can to help people identify those things they’re personally engaged in right now.
This work has to begin within the person who wants to engage others before they attempt to engage others. Many organizations simply hire workers to deliver services or build widgets before those workers actually have the opportunity to attach to what they have lasting connections to.
If you’ve done made that initial list for yourself, named your personal engagement, you can begin to engage others. From this place, establish connections between what they care about to the issues and actions you are trying to promote. The reason why so-called “internet activism” is popular today is because people who it appeals to spend a lot of time on the internet today. If you are trying to get people connected to turning a local downtown block into a park, have them identify what they’re already engaged in personally, then make a connection between your issue and theirs. If you care about political prisoners in former Southeast Asia, help your friends connect their interests to your issue by helping them identify what they’re already engaged in. The revolutionary Brazilian educator Paulo Freire challenged his students to “read the world through the word,” which happens when learners make meaning from the experience of learning, This happens as people see themselves in what they’re learning. This should be the basis of our promotion of personal engagement, too. We should encourage people to see themselves in our issues, whether they be saving the world, helping their communities, or changing their lives. When we see our connections in others’ efforts, we can become engaged. Not before then.
Proceeding from this place may mean to more shallow involvement activities within your own life. It might mean not asking others to “just show up” for something at your house. Everyone throughout all our communities needs the opportunity to identify what they’re engaged in right now. Our society needs opportunities to establish personal engagement in our daily lives in practical, tangible ways. We need to move past tokenistic gestures and decorative opportunities to show up any old way anywhere we want to. Learning to love life right now means that we respect ourselves enough to see beyond simply “showing up,” and instead dive deeply, meaningfully, lastingly into those things we care about most. Concrete experiences of dialogue, peer-driven activities, and interactive learning within democratic cultures can support personal engagement, and deepen the connections people already have to the issues they care about. But those are topics for another day…
5 Steps to Involve All People in Identifying What They’re Engaged in Within Their Own Lives
- Begin by making a T-chart on a sheet of paper.
- Label the top of the left column “Connections In My Life” and list out as many issues, actions, ideas, opinions, people, places, and memories you can think of that you’re connected to right now.
- Label the top of the right column “Meaningful Connections In My Life” and then list out the things you meaningful connections to right now. There may be some repeats, and that’s okay.
- Go through your two lists and circle the items that you’re personally engaged in right now.
- Using a sheet of plain white paper, create a mind map of personal engagements in your life, starting with the things nearest and dearest to who you are towards the center, and the things that are less essential to you further away from the center.
When you have finished your T-chart and mind map, you should have a clearer picture of what personal engagement looks like in your own life right now. You can also lead others through this process as well.