Last week, Growing Up Healthy was honored at Minnesota Campus Compact’s Annual Awards Ceremony by being named as St. Olaf College’s pick for the President’s Community Partner Award. The award is for a community-based organization that has enhanced the quality of life in the community in meaningful and measurable ways and has engaged in the development of sustained, reciprocal partnerships with the college, thus enriching educational as well as community outcomes. We are incredibly grateful to Nate Jacobi and President Anderson at St. Olaf for selecting us for this honor.
At the awards ceremony, there was time for small group discussions about a variety of issues, and I participated in one about the importance of genuine dialogue. The conversation struck a chord with me, particularly given our work around building community connectedness. The speaker, Dick Senese from U of MN Extension, talked about our tendency to seek out and hear only those opinions and pieces of information that support what we already believe. He called it the “Echo Effect” and for me it highlighted that talking to people who already agree with you is not unlike talking to yourself. It might be gratifying, but it’s probably not particularly meaningful.
At the same time, our small group talked about the difficulty of getting two groups to connect or have genuine dialogue if they don’t feel like they have anything in common. What would there be to talk about? Wouldn’t it just be arguing? Or agreeing to disagree?
The real take away moment for me was when someone in the group talked about the need for “boundary spanners”, those individuals who can comfortably navigate the space between two groups who feel like they don’t have much in common. These “spanners” can essentially walk in two worlds, or speak two languages, and help the groups identify where their values or commitments or interests overlap.
While it would be easy to say that this is the work of Growing Up Healthy, it would be somewhat inaccurate. Growing Up Healthy doesn’t strive to BE the “spanner” in Rice County. Our role is to help create opportunities for spanners to connect two groups; to help nurture more people who can connect groups in our community; and to challenge someone on the edge to step into the void and take on that connecting role.
It is definitely easier to sit back with friends and family and enjoy the comfort of, well, our comfort zone. But to make our community a better place, we’ll have to bridge a few gaps. What step can you take to become a spanner?