Embracing Our Common Humanity

I typically rise in the morning at 4 a.m., but as of late it’s become earlier. During this time of year it is normal to have the weight of the United Way campaign become heavier as we seek to press through to the finish line. The problem is that it’s not simply the weight of the campaign. There is nothing normal about what we are experiencing as a region right now. This is not our typical operating environment.

Our region at this moment is challenged to deal with some very sensitive and complex issues. Some have drawn early conclusions that Ferguson is the focus. Many others see Ferguson as a symbol and a symptom of greater challenges. This characterization seems reasonable to me and resonates with me. When you sit in the middle like we at United Way do, you must start by recognizing we all have different realities and world views. And still we must embrace our common humanity. We have painful lessons from the past where we have not sought to understand challenges born by others that we don’t experience. When we as people can summarily reduce any other person or group, whether they are perceived as powerful or marginalized, to being “other” we lose.

I grew up poor and seemingly without opportunity, and I understand what it is like to be hopeless. But the truth is you can come from any economic background, be any race or gender, and understand true hopelessness. One definition of hopelessness is a loss of confidence that future events or occurrences will be positive. Too many people in our community today are in a chronic state of hopelessness.

When I hear young men and women who are actively searching for the right words to express their frustration with the options that lie ahead of them, I am reminded of the role we must play going forward. When I hear the authentic concern of individual investors, community members, and corporate partners who truly want to see our region as world class, I am convinced that we have to project an aspirational vision – a different vision – and work to achieve it: Every child will succeed, every adult will be financially self-sufficient and every neighborhood will be safe. In order to do this, we must work collectively with the available resources. The concept of collective impact hinges on the idea that in order for organizations to create lasting solutions to social problems on a large scale, they need to coordinate their efforts and work together towards a clearly defined goal. In business you call this alignment within the value chain. This approach is in contrast to “isolated impact,” where organizations primarily work alone to solve social problems.

Finally, the temptation during difficult times is to rationalize how the unfolding events don’t impact us personally and to cede the discussion table to those who are on the extremes. Let us not do that. Let us be open to the uncomfortable discussions – choosing to see our common humanity. Our region, state, and nation must harness this collective energy into change that is productive and sustained.

By Orv Kimbrough

Originally published at www.helpingpeople.org.

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