Titirangi Storyteller

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Engagement & Disengagement

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Acapulco cliff divers – 100% engaged

No, there are no big announcements in my family lately (though I suspect I could start some rumours that would only get me into trouble.)

Nor am I thinking about meetings – something I can use as an excuse to get out of something I’d rather do less; “I’d love to come, but I have a previous engagement.” Always makes you sound like your diary is full of intriguing appointments, when the reality is it’s a dental appointment or the cat needs her stitches out.

These days I’m thinking of engagement as involvement, passion, dedication, interest… How can you engage people? What pulls them in? What inspires them to commit to something – a cause or an organisation?

This is spurred in part by a two-day workshop I just did on public participation. It’s something I have always been fascinated by, and generally pretty good at it. But I’ve mostly operated on instinct – the reality is, community involvement is a veritable social science!

There really was a one big WOW moment – where something clicked in my brain. Something I hadn’t been able to get a handle on it – and there it was. This little triangle to my left just about got my heart pounding.

I’ve been very troubled over the last several years by the emergence of what can only be described as a culture of hatred. Differing political views once spawned debate; occasional heated arguments with family members who were either too liberal or too conservative, depending on the prevailing tide; and passionate but tempered editorials in the media. It seemed normal and healthy.

There are too many factors at work in our rapidly evolving culture to point the finger at one as the cause (not everything is the Internet’s fault.) And yet, there is something happening that is luring otherwise reasonable people to attend hate rallies and spout obvious lies and venom about the ‘other side.’ It’s mostly the right wing, but the left has its share of haters as well. I can grok (understand is far too generous a word for it) why they do it… but I just couldn’t get a handle on how they could manipulate ordinary people into embracing hatred.

Piggies with immutable positions

A-ha! When you talk to people – the first thing you will get is their position – on anything. Positions are usually black and white. Underpinning them are our interests, our motivations, what we want. ‘I’m against the road. It’s going through my back garden.’ Underpinning that is our values. If this person values privacy, stability and tradition – we gain an understanding of his position. It may very well be intractable – but more likely, if the person also values reason and cooperation – there are solutions, steps that can be taken to mitigate the situation. I am sure this is obvious… it’s how engagement works – you dig until you find the underpinning values, and then look for common ground, find ways to get at least part of what everyone wants and needs.

What the haters are so very good at is keeping people completely focussed on their positions. People being people, like things simple and easy and reinforced. Disengagement may not be pretty, but it’s easy. I’m worried.

There is no society without cooperation and respect for differing points of view. Even if we seem extremely different, once we dig, we find we are far more alike than we are different and want essentially the same things out of life.

Comprehending it all is one thing – but how can we stop the haters? How do you begin to engage people who have turned off their minds?

Just pondering…

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Written by Titirangi Storyteller

09/05/2010 at 1:54 am

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