The tension in our communities is palpable. I’m referring to the tension resulting from shootings, racial tensions and confrontations between citizens and the police. It is a sad state of affairs. It’s a tragedy to see the loss of life, the transformation of people’s lives and erosion of trust .
At this week’s YWCA Inspire luncheon in Portland, Ore., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother shared her story. Her son, Trayvon died after a violent confrontation in Florida in 2012. Today, Sybrina is a civil rights activist committed to positive change in the face of violence in society. She recalled the transformation from being a regular mother of two bright boys to becoming a voice of positive change by establishing the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Sybrina encouraged the audience to use her story to inspire change. Her loss and grief felt young, deep and tender.
Parents and victims of pain and loss often decide to channel their experience of loss and grief into advocacy. It is HOW the individuals choose to use their experience and WHAT they choose to do that is striking.
The story of Amy Biehl is illustrative of the power of forgiveness. In 1993, Amy was a graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa who was murdered by Cape Town residents. The four men convicted of her murder were released. Biehl’s family supported the release of the men, and according to Wikipedia her father shook their hands, stating: “the most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue … we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms”
Listen to the StoryCorps episode with Oshea Israel and he Mary Johnson. One night at a party Oshea got into a fight, which ended when he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd. Today they are close neighbors and friends. Mary Johnson founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims.
This depth of forgiveness in these stories is unfathomable for some people. I can’t help but wonder whether the depth of forgiveness is a source of hope towards building a more harmonious society. (Of course, this would not be in the absence of institutional changes too).
We’re often reminded that we can’t change people but we can control how we respond to a situation.
We’re all improvisers. Every day we wake up, we don’t have a script, and we don’t really know what is going to happen. Anything could happen. This was one of Gary Hirsch’s messages at the TEDxMtHood Adventure: Improvising with Strangers held this weekend. Gary is a self-proclaimed improv junkie and co-founder of On Your Feet. During the 2.5 hour workshop, a group of ~30 strangers became friends by playing with improv. Through play, simple instructions, applying the principles of improv showed how it can strengthen collaboration, increase self-awareness and relationships, generate new ideas and approaches to opportunities, problems or products. Here’s what I took away from the session:
Be spontaneous: How often do you attend a meeting with an idea, opinion or a problem to solve but truthfully you’re steadfast committed to one solution? You’re not alone. Agendas have a time and a place. However a lot of people join a brainstorm or meeting with a focus on influencing or convincing vs. looking to solve real problems or find new ideas. Be honest about your intention.
Take the offer. Listen: Improvising is centered on the idea of maintaining the flow of a dialogue and acting on “offers.” We encounter offers throughout conversations and everyday events. They are mistakes, unforeseen circumstances, statements, questions, failures or gestures. Offers help us think differently or generate better ideas. It isn’t necessary to accept every offer but learn to accept the reality of others. Listen for offers to be able to help, learn, contribute, support, create and so forth (especially relevant if you’re in a position of power or authority).
Present: Improv is designed for the present which equips us for the unknown of tomorrow.
I signed up to attend Improvising with Strangers for two reasons. At the 2014 World Domination Summit, Gary handed out bravebots, I carry mine with me most days. It always prompts a smile and reminder to keep trying new things. Second, surprises are more rare these days. In our always-on lives our days are often hyper-scheduled or we’re learning about EVERYTHING new or different via social-media. It was a great experience to participate in a gathering without an agenda and a lot of unknowns. I didn’t really know what I’d signed up for. The tweet I read from @DesignWeekPDX made an offer and I took them up on it.
In our patch work world of busy social calendars, family functions and professional demands, complexity is an outcome of life that we confront most days. Our world of complexity is powered by technology, an over-abundance of information and high expectations. Deliberately embracing the notion of simplicity or simplifying our ways is refreshing; I’ve learned that its a strategy to live a more meaningful life.
The Oxford Dictionary defines the adjective simple, “Free from duplicity, innocent and harmless, honest, open and straightforward.” The word suggests greater clarity because if we spend time focused on simplifying a situation, task or priorities, there is a greater likelihood that we have a clearer focus and understanding for why we are doing something. The idea of taking some time to pause and process the reason for why we’re doing something , as opposed to jumping frantically from one task to another raises our consciousness about the choices we’re making which means we can focus on quality of activities versus the quantity of items that we’re checking off the to-do list.
Simplicity breeds gratitude, higher productivity and greater fulfillment. Undeniably, the idea of simplifying is an aspiration every day. If we remind ourselves frequently, train our brain to be deliberate and focus, we will be more intentional and happier.
Every day companies are introducing sustainable, socially conscious products and services, engaging in public-private partnerships and working to alleviate social and environmental challenges to fulfill business commitments and goals (financial, environmental and social). Research indicates that more and more consumers aspire to align their purchasing decisions and lifestyle with their values. This is commonly referred to as ‘conscious consumption’. At the same time, employees’ values are showing up more prominently in the workplace. Environmental Leader recently reported that corporate social responsible (CSR) activities have been proven to improve job performance. As employers compete aggressively for talent, they’re learning about the importance of creating compelling experiences that match individuals’ values such as flexibility, shared responsibility and transparency.
Last year Sustainable Brands reported on Nielsen’s findings that 50 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for socially responsible products. Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2014 indicated that Millennials are disappointed in business and government leaders, and expect improvement in CSR. Sixty-three percent of Millennials donate to charities and 51 percent—more than any other generation surveyed—told Nielsen they would pay extra for sustainable products. As more and more digital natives show more interest in buying socially responsible brands and the number of micro-audiences increase, organizations are facing a more daunting or complex task of engaging and influencing consumers.
At this week’s Go Green Portland conference, Renee Lertzman, Ph.D., author of The Myth of Apathy shared insight about the challenges of engaging and motivating communities of stakeholders in sustainability. She advocated the value and importance of getting smart about the psychological and social dimensions of the stakeholders that we connect with. Assuming that most people share the desire to have impact there is more to consider besides people’s values, beliefs and opinions.
Lertzman explained the complexity of everyday decisions and how people relate to environmental issues. We face dilemmas each day. Think about a person’s decision whether to work from home to reduce their carbon footprint. If a person stays at home they may spend less time emitting carbon on the roads, however the power and energy to warm their home may equal the carbon emissions of a commute. Which option minimizes the impact on the environment? Lertzman argued that people’s capacity to understand issues will directly affect the appropriate engagement strategy to reach these people.
Instead of only focusing on appealing to individuals’ behavioral motivations and triggers, Lertzman pointed to the value of focusing on the emotional and experiential dimension of engagement.
Meet people where they are: Capitalizing on the energy that exists, mobilizing people to co-create and discuss solutions can help audiences rationalize their situation and negotiate dilemmas and conflicts.
Show compassion: Knowing that every human being has a fundamental need to have an impact, yet deals with anxiety in decision making, positive reinforcement and compassion breeds understanding and lends itself to promising outcomes.
Listen: Listening and being inquisitive helps us from jumping too quickly to conclusions and making assumptions. If people aren’t engaging its often because they are overwhelmed. Its often nothing to do with the fact that they don’t care or aren’t motivated. Listening to people, understanding their circumstances can be more effective in driving change, as opposed to pressuring individuals.