A little bit of charm can go a long way in social justice efforts
On a recent trip, I got to meet with great community leaders with grand passion and commitment for empowering communities and improving overall health. Sure many community activists are wacky and hold unique personalities. At this point I am starting to develop my own wacky brand of activism. I’m a bit snarky with a side of stubbornness mixed in with intelligence and vision. I also have a sense of etiquette that is pretty strong. Sounds a bit odd, I know. However, I always send thank you notes and bring gifts when going to someone’s home. There is no “ifs” or “buts” about that. I don’t care how much of a rabble-rouser you think you are. Manners don’t ever go out of style and are not part of being beholden to the proverbial “man.”
Let me explain the mean-spirited activist incident. In an introductory email, the activist seemed welcoming and eager to meet. Upon reaching their offices, they made us wait about 30 minutes. When the activist finally made her way down, she barely could contain her immediate disdain and without apology said “I had important things to do.” She immediately gave us a snake-eyed looked and noted that her activist efforts and tactics were better than ours. Whoa! Where did this anger come from?
She went on to question us on how we actually help the community noting that she works directly with community members and doesn’t believe in working to build the capacity of other organizations. She felt that was too removed and wasteful. I understand that activists have different tactics and strategies and vision sets. At the end of the day, however, we all are trying to improve quality of life through social justice efforts.
Now, when you invite someone to your home do you let them in to chastise them as to how they don’t run their household the same way that you do? Sometimes people are so myopic in their vision. At one point, one of them took our report of accomplishments glanced at it and then threw it on the table with great disgust. Their take was that reports do nothing to help the universe. The fact that one has to raise awareness of the issues and develop allies meant nothing to them. We recounted a story of where community activists and police came together to work on small tasks such as street lamps to enhance a sense of community security. By working on a small, yet highly personally important project together, they were able to start developing rapport and understanding. The activist we were talking with just rolled her eyes at that example and said that developing rapport was not her goal and does nothing to further the cause. She solely believed that exerting might and in-your-face tactics were the way to go. She thought we were naïve and useless for believing in the power of rapport.
At that point I closed my notebook and realized that the activist we were meeting with was mean-spirited, short-sighted and full of herself. There was no point in meeting with this individual. We ended the meeting as quickly as possible and got a drink. Before we left, I took out a few New York City souvenirs to give as a gift as we had visited their “house.” They pocketed the gifts and sort of cracked a smile. Thereafter, the next day I proudly sent them you notes for them taking time to meet with us wishing them continued success in their endeavors. Just because they had been rude did not mean I had to follow suit. I will proudly note I adhere to certain rules of etiquette. Can you believe they never responded?
I believe in social justice. I believe in putting pressure on the system to make things right. I also believe in manners and good-will. I don’t think that makes me any less effective. We need not be an angry, mean-spirited person to make a point. As a matter a fact a little bit of charm can go a long way.
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