Sponsored Post – Earth Day ATX
This post was written by Janis Bookout (Earth Day ATX Outreach Manager), with contribution from Shane Johnson
First, I apologize for the title. Once I thought of it, I couldn’t shake it. (Another bad pun, sorry.) It came to me when I was thinking about how boring the word stakeholder is. It’s a word mostly used in corporate boardrooms by people in positions of power trying to influence others. But I would like to reclaim the word for a minute and explore the possibilities for a tool to build people power.
This question has now captured my downtime thinking – What becomes possible when we begin to see ourselves as stakeholders and authentically build relationships with others as stakeholders? It’s actually got me really, really, really excited.
We are all stakeholders in something.
I like yourdictionary.com’s definition of a stakeholder – “A person who has an interest in or investment in something and who is impacted by and cares about how it turns out.”
We are all stakeholders in something. Personally, I have a stake in the wellbeing and happiness of my family members. I have a stake in the outcome and impact of Earth Day ATX. I have a stake in ending the climate crisis, and I have a stake in the disruption and eventual end of institutional discrimination. Some of these came naturally for me, and others I discovered/created as a matter of my word, because it empowered me.
But let’s pick apart that definition. Chances are, you have an interest or investment in lots of things and are impacted by how they turn out. I am thinking about traffic congestion, city policies, school funding, the supply chain of milk, where avocados come from, the funding of parks, climate change… All of these things impact you.
But tell the truth… Do you experience really caring about all of those things? Maybe you do when you are sitting in traffic. But do you think about traffic when you aren’t sitting in it? Do you see yourself as having a stake in the matter? Why or why not? Why don’t we see ourselves as stakeholders in the matters of life that impact us, our community, other communities, and future generations? What would happen if we did?
Coming Out of Hiding
The theme of this year’s Earth Day ATX is “Reclaiming Power.” You don’t have to have a particular political viewpoint to see that many people are feeling disempowered in the current morass of divisiveness, violent and discriminatory behavior, opinion-mongering, and fear-based narratives. The weight of it just kinda makes you want to crawl in bed and watch Netflix while drinking Spanish wine. Ok, maybe that was too specific, but you have your ways to hide and I have mine.
But the degree to which we hide from the issues that impact us is the degree to which we settle for the world we have got. Actually it’s even worse. Most of us are participating in the things we complain about. Driving a car is participating in traffic. And if I can convince myself that the problem is bigger than me, I can justify my actions.
But what happens when someone reinvents themself as a stakeholder? And, by the way, this is a matter of declaration and nothing you need permission or credentials for. You are a stakeholder when you say so. What happens is that your view changes. Every interaction gives you a chance to change your behavior or make the necessary requests that others change theirs. Movements are started by stakeholders.
Magic People Sauce
I can hear it coming, “But what if another stakeholder has different intentions than mine?” Yeah, exactly. They do. But now, as a stakeholder, you are in the game. So then… what?
Several years ago I was working on a grant-funded project that engaged multiple categories of people that were impacted by the issue of food waste. Each had a very different viewpoint. We had a big meeting designed to bring everyone together to make food donation more accessible. We broke them into three groups – business owners/managers, city employees, and non-profits/community leaders. We asked them to make a list of the general goals, concerns, mitigating factors, and obstacles when it came to food waste. Once they had agreed on the list that represented their viewpoint, we posted them.
Then, something interesting happened. Naturally, we started talking as a group about what was possible. New ideas emerged. New relationships were formed. The project that came afterwards was exciting and had broad buy-in.
I have a theory about why that process worked. I think it’s because, when viewpoints are allowed to exist unthreatened, they take a backseat to creativity. And, when people truly understand another person’s view, they naturally begin to account for it.
Whether it’s in a meeting or in personal interaction, this requires listening. Which is a problem, because most people don’t really listen with an intention to understand someone else’s viewpoint. Most of our listening is cluttered with distracted thoughts, opinions, or plans for how to make our point. And good luck trying to turn that machine off. But you can listen through your thoughts, like you are hungry for understanding their viewpoint. If you do, magic happens.
When you understand someone else’s intention, you can account for it, include it in your planning and thinking. And in some cases, disparate stakeholders can come together to make miracles happen. That’s magic sauce if I ever tasted it. I am hungry for that, are you?
For me, reclaiming power is about taking responsibility for the way the world is and the way in which I want it to be. Personally, I cannot find a position of strength in the muck of opinion. I can, however, find strength and passion out in the world of what people are really dealing with and what they really want. If I care as much about my neighbors’ dreams as I do my own, we can become a power of two, three, and so on… So what does reclaiming power mean to you? Join us for that conversation on facebook, twitter and instagram #reclaimingpower #earthdayatx