This is a reflection I’ve written for the Family, School, and Neighborhood Engagement Scholars I work with. Read my introduction to these here, and read the original post here.
Part A – How do you see yourself incorporating the principles we went over during the reflection into your daily lives or into your service hours?
Part B – Also, take time to reflect on ways you see power in organizational settings you participate in and the implications of that on communities and individuals.
November’s training (led by the awesome Amy Shackelford) was on power, coalition building, and community organizing. One of the more interesting principles that I have been learning about is the difference between short-term service and work that creates a lasting impact.
One good part of that idea that we discussed was that some forms of service accept the way things are whereas others work to challenge the status quo.
Where does that put people who want to do service?
At this point in time, I don’t think doing service that only impacts the short-term isn’t a bad thing, but I think that there needs to be more done for the long-term. That could maybe take the form in educating the people who complete the service, especially on ways they can help for the long-term or perhaps creating service projects that aid in long-term change.
Talking about short-term versus long-term change reminds me of a story I was told as an undergraduate. I’ll tell it (in my words, as I remember it) below:
Once, there was a man who was sitting by a river. As he sat and looked upstream, he noticed a basket floating down the river.
When the basket floated closer, he realized there was a baby tucked into the basket.
Oh dear, thought the man, as he waded into the water to retrieve the basket.
Once he had the basket, he called to his friends further inland for help. They rushed over and discussed what to do with the baby.
They discussed education, food, shelter, and more, and as they had decided to take the baby into town, they noticed a second basket with a baby floating down the river.
They decided to continue with their plan, and one friend ran the first baby into town while the remaining group of friends retrieved the second baby.
As one of the friends ran the second baby into town, a third basket appeared floating down the river.
This went on and on as more baskets appeared along the river. Soon the friends has spread the word and they had a well-oiled machine to rescue, feed, educate, and shelter the babies.
It was a long time before anyone realized that they should send someone to figure out why the babies were floating down the river in the first place…
This story highlights why we need to get to and fix the root causes of social issues. We can have our well-oiled machine of service, and that’s fine, but we don’t really make a difference until we get down to fixing what’s causing the social issue in the first place.
In terms of the prompt, I would likely use what we learned when creating or going on service activities, and I will use it as a reminder to keep focused on the root causes rather than just getting little things done.
I haven’t learned much about power yet, though I am more cognizant of it.
One way I see power is in the library, especially when it comes to the digital divide.
Many patrons come into the library to use our computers with a goal in mind (“I want to create a resume/flyer/document” or “I need to scan a document” or “I need to access these files and print them off”). For patrons who aren’t as competent with computer usage, this goal only gets patrons so far in terms of completing it. They might have a basic idea of how to accomplish their goal, but they have roadblocks in their way.
Usually when they hit a roadblock, they come to the desk for help.
In the library community, there is some debate over how best to help patrons. There’s the “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” approach, and there’s the approach to just help the patron (otherwise known as giving them the fish).
Personally, there are times when both are appropriate, but I tend to lean towards the “teach” versus “give” approach.
I think this idea relates to power. Yes, we want patrons to come to the library, but no, we don’t want to prevent them from learning something that will aid them in the future.
If we only give them what they want, they’ll come back and ask for help every time they need it, but I think this defeats our mission as librarians.
We share knowledge; we don’t hoard knowledge.
Teaching patrons how to use computers bridges the digital divide and gives them the power. We have the power if we complete the tasks for them, because they are less-likely do do more if it complicates things and/or they think they are burdening us.
Basically, we give them power by teaching, and we keep the power for ourselves when we just give them the answers.
I hope that all makes sense; I know it’s a lot.