Monday, March 3, 2008

Perhaps It's the Little Proactive Actions

At a Christmas party last year, I was talking to someone I had just met in the kitchen. He had lived in our City his whole life and worked for the same company for over 20 years. Hearing first hand accounts of the olden days is something I enjoy immensely.

The hostess came in the kitchen and warned, "Oh, be careful talking to her. It will all seem good and you will be happy and she'll talk you into doing something and you won't even know it." He won't even know it? Apparently when I talk to people we share ideas and you leave excited to take some action. I will have tricked you into doing something you think you want to do.

(Now I'll confess, I had just suggested that he and his wife attend an event I was planning. She was right.)

For over two months I have been thinking about this comment and how I interact with people. I don't think I am pushy, but I get excited talking to people. I love talking to folks and finding common ground or new perspectives. I'm not judgemental and actually seek out different opinions. My goal is to always understand where someone is coming from and why they are acting or speaking as they do. I accept people for who they are.

So what does this mean in daily life? Do I inspire people to do things for the common good? The world is full of books and theories about how people should interact, how we can engage them, and what it will take. What does it take?

My experience always results in the same answer - personal contact. Reaching out to someone and talking works. In the conversation you can find agreement and a course of action.

Take for example the day I voted. I knew the person in front of me but had not seen her in almost five years. We recognized each other but didn't remember names. Of course we did not admit we didn't remember names but we didn't.

She and her husband were making comments about the line to vote which wasn't that long but usually there is no line at our voting place. There was some griping. I had to break up my sons who were arguing while we waited on this line I didn't expect.

I could have just thought, "How terrible she is complaining." but I didn't. I asked where her kids were. They're in private school so they had school that day. I explained that they really needed Election Judges to work the polls. They were short on volunteers. This is why there is a line and for the general election it will be longer. I always want to be a judge but can't because I have no one to watch my kids who go to public school. They don't have school on election days because we use the buildings to vote.

She said she could be a judge because she realized her kids would be in school for the next election. She laughed and it was so cool to see someone think about being part of the solution.

Personal contact is the way to motivate people to improve a situation. Judging people and complaining about them will not help. Although I have been worried about the impression I make on others, I don't believe I'm wrong to help people see a different way and challenge their perspectives as I try not to bneg.

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