In my sphere a lot is said about outreach. We are endlessly looking for ways of drawing people in whether it’s looking for new recruits, securing new income or expanding our networks in some way. Being outward looking is a good thing, for sure. Getting outside our bubble brings us new opportunities and ideas. To be only concerned with our immediate environment, seeing everything from an internal perspective, will lead to isolation. Seems reasonable.
All these things are arguably true but I have noticed a peculiar thing. The more we focus on outreach the less we have to say of any depth or importance. Yes it’s possible to travel the world and to broad mindedly embrace other perspectives and ideas but there can be a big risk to this. If we are not careful we can become tourists who are enchanted by difference but without any reference points or self understanding – or even self respect.
I’m not saying we should’t be outward looking but our own story as it is lived out with those around us is just so terribly exciting. I think it’s really very important that we share the chapters and verses of our everyday lives in creative and engaging ways. Taking an interest in people of other cultures and backgrounds is very important but must be balanced with a deep respect for who we are and the relationships with those around us.
In my work in schools, community groups and other organisations I see many people who dismiss their own lives as unimportant and without hope. They consume the media and see success as out there somewhere – beyond, unreachable. From my perspective I see them as being superbly talented and engaging human beings, real stars in their own way. What they need more that anything is for someone close by to reach out to them, not a distant stranger.
But our feaverish concern for outreach and finding new relationships further afield can sometimes mean we miss the point and fail to take care of the people we have been given.
Focussing our care and conversations close to home doesn’t mean that our story won’t reach the ends of the earth. By the same token, reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean we will draw people in.
The most powerful communication take place at a personal level where people talk directly to one another. Word of mouth is quite simply the most effective way of communicating. Marketing agencies talk of viral communications where individuals will, for example, share a video or photo, “hey, look at this”. Sometimes these viral messages will spontaneously reach millions of people. We believe those we know above those we don’t.
Communication takes place between people not between technological devices or networks. Technology doesn’t achieve communication but it does bring people together in order to communicate. It’s the comming together that’s important. Technology can alter what we mean by local and even what we mean by community but it’s the proximity of people that’s the key. Shortening the distance between people.
My hope is that the powerful and inspirational stories that come out of walking closely with people can be means of achieving outreach in itself. Pradoxically by being more local the more global we can become. The confidence we gain from treating our neighbours with care and respect can set in motion a transforming wave of whispers which speak in a way people really understand.