How do you know you’re making a difference?
Last night I attended a presentation by idealist.org about a new program they are piloting in NYC that will allow people to act as Connectors in their communities. These people will help others find the resources and networks they need to take action on an issue they are passionate about, online and offline.
I walked away from the presentation with a renewed appreciation for the daily actions people take to try to make a difference and how the barriers to engagement can easily be surmounted with the right support. During the Q&A someone in the audience asked how idealist.org would measure progress to see if the project is successful. One measurement would be how many people are willing to talk to others about the program and invite them to join. While the answer is related to the project, it made me wonder: Is telling others in our lives about our activism the hardest part of taking action?
Why is this so hard?
My first year of college I took a course on black women and religion. I was learning about various religions black women practiced and how those religions helped them navigate sexism and racism. After the first few classes, I was eager to share my experiences with my mother. My enthusiasm was met with concern and suspicion. Indeed, her first reaction was: “Don’t come back an atheist.”
That comment led to a discussion of beliefs my mom held about education, religion, and social change, a conversation my mom and I hadn’t had before yet shed light on our differing views on touchy issues.
I share this story because it reflects a challenge that many of us encounter in social change work: sometimes the most difficult conversations around social change, passion, and progress happen with the people in our lives. Our family members, friends, and loved ones. Maybe it’s because their potential disagreement with our views hits hardest. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid it may cause a rift in our relationships. Maybe it’s because you know that these kinds of conversations won’t end well. In any case, I think this is often why it is easier to engage in conversation with strangers around some of these touchy issues. It gives us a sense of security: they don’t know me, so no worries.
Where can you begin?
Yet I find that having these kinds of conversations with the people in my life and connecting them to the resources they need are signs that I am making a difference. I know I am making a difference when:
- My mother reads an article about a social justice issue in New York City and asks me to discuss it with her,
- My best friend wants to explore her passion and comes to me for advice,
- My sister wants to volunteer and asks me where she should begin,
- My boyfriend wants to learn more about the social change work of business people he admires and looks to me for information
By taking action, no matter how small, we send a message to people in our lives that taking action is possible. You, in this way, become a connector as others see you as a living example of how they can get involved and ask you for advice.
Yet sometimes we all need a little push to get involved and to invite others to join us. Idealist.org had some great questions to get the conversation started:
- What do want to do (to make your community, or the world, a better place)?
- Why haven’t you done it?
- What would help you to do it?
Easy enough, right? My plan is to ask more people in my life these questions and reflect on them myself. Are you willing to do the same?
What do you think? How can you engage people in your life about making a difference?