Engaging People Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Katharine

If you’ve seen the 4 hour documentary film Half the Sky, you may know that the first step in taking action towards an issue is awareness.

Unfortunately, unlike the 1.6 billion people on the planet who have seen “Gangnam Style” on YouTube, a lot fewer have seen Half the Sky. Even fewer know about the themes the documentary explores: sociocultural barriers and institutional misogyny in the developing world, where girls may be sold into brothels, boys get an education in the family but girls often don’t, and domestic violence is prevalent.

Earlier this year, I interviewed a high school senior who applied to the University of Chicago, whom we’ll call Amy.  Amy happened to go an all-girls school.  Amy was frustrated by the relatively narrow advice she was given on how to work on women’s issues. She was told to “go volunteer with a women’s shelter” as one example of getting involved in feminist activism.  She asked me, “Do any—or many—of the guys at the University of Chicago care about women’s issues?”

If you want to change norms, it takes more than “preaching to the choir.”  I advised Amy to reach  out to “the guys” who might not ordinarily take part in anything around “women’s issues.”  Invite them to an activity like attending an LGBT pride march, a reading of the Vagina Monologues, or raising funds for the Somaly Mam Foundation. Women’s issues aren’t just about women; it’s about the future of society.  To paraphrase John Wood of Room To Read, when you educate a girl, you educate a village, because she takes that knowledge and gets a better career, takes better care of her children, and improves the health and education of the whole family.

Sustainable business guru Danielle Lanyard recently asked leaders of the environmental movement what they would have done differently, 30 years ago, to be more effective.  The leaders responded, “To engage people in the mainstream, outside the fringes of eco-activism, and to engage more mainstream people earlier.”

If you care about an issue, by all means, go spend time with other people who care about that issue. But don’t leave out or write off the “unbelievers.”  For thousands of years, missionaries of every religious tradition have left their homes to talk about what they believe to those who didn’t know about that issue or idea.

We at Cloud City are not missionaries, but we believe in doing work that creates a better world. Yet, the point is, if you want to create lasting change, then you can’t draw a line between yourself and the “people who don’t get it” and stay within your comfort zone of people who agree with you.  Who knows—the “unbelievers” may have something valuable to contribute.  As you can see in Derek Sivers’ TED talk here, if you want to start a movement, you have to get people off their butts and start dancing.

P.S. Cloud City is looking for organizations addressing important issues that need software and design help.  Feel free to write us at blog@cloudcity.io with your suggestions!


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