Sunday, November 4, 2007

Inspiring anecdotes: faith in humanity, fast-thinking bridge-building

Just read the fall issue of New American Dream's newsletter, In Balance, and found these two gems of inspiration in Sean Sheehan's "New Dream Community News" article:
Almost all people are genuinely good and want to leave the world a better place.

Sure I've heard celebrities say "my goal in life is to leave the world a little better than I found it," and I've seen polling data that the vast majority of the American public is on the same page, but the reason I believe it is because of a random conversation I had on a D.C. street corner five or six years ago. It was during a globalization conference and I had made small talk with a man standing near me--John. Triggered by a placard calling somebody "evil," John said: "I really don't know if there are any bad people in the world, but I do know this: I've never met a single one in
my life."

Never met a single bad person? Sounded like John was either born yesterday, living in a plastic bubble, or completely disengaged from social issues of consequence. Well, he wasn't born yesterday--John was easily in his fifties--and as we talked, I realized he hadn't lived in a bubble either. He had grown up black in 1950s America, experienced the horrors of war in Vietnam, and spent several harrowing years homeless on the streets of Philadelphia. An organizer with ACT UP, John was leading a large contingent to demonstrate against our government's inaction in the face of a global AIDS epidemic. John was definitely, passionately engaged.

But there
was one line that John wouldn't cross--to call any politician or CEO "evil." He was eager to share his experiences and concerns, but he was also ready for a true dialogue, not a simple dismissal.

I figured if John could have such faith in humanity, then I should too.

Prioritize a positive, bridge-building approach.

I first saw the power of our cross-partisan appeal when former New Dream President Betsy Taylor appeared on
Crossfire in 1997 to promote our Simplify the Holidays campaign. The other three participants, Geraldine Ferraro, Tucker Carlson, and Pat Buchannan, initially came out with guns blazing against the campaign, insisting it was bad for the economy. They also expressed particular furor over Buy Nothing Day, a complementary campaign run by the group AdBusters. Then Betsy noted: "We used to have a Buy Nothing Day" every week. It was called the Sabbath." Something clicked and Buchannan went from attacking to solidly defending the campaign. Weird, but cool!

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