Many have followed his advice and have stated similar concepts over and over. The great American radical educator, Myles Horton, recognised that
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will
say 'We have done this ourselves.”
“you can’t want to change society if you don’t love people, there’s no point in it.”All too often as I look around at social service agencies I see references to: outcomes, KPIs, targets, goals, and perhaps worst of all, clients. It is as if the purpose of community is not people at all, but recipients of services – clients.
Its back-to-front. When people are listened to, when people are trusted, when people are respected, then some creative, sometimes amazing, things can happen. When they are not, it is just the same, tired old programs that are placed in front of them, rather like limp cabbage on a dinner plate.
Start with people. That should be the mantra of all community development workers, social service providers, and social justice advocates. What’s more – its simple. There is no need to make things complicated. There is no need for jargon. There is no need for projecting into the future and devising spreadsheets with rows and columns of what is to be achieved or what has been achieved.
Just – go to the people, as Lao Tzu said.
The simplicity of this suggests to me that the most important skills that a community development worker, social justice advocate, or any social service provider can acquire are the skills of:
- Listening with an openness that does not impose one’s own beliefs or judgements.
- Empathising with the emotional content of what the other is saying.
- Showing respect and trust.
- Being patient with ourselves so that full stories can be explained and fully heard.
- Recognising our own thoughts, judgements, feelings, and belief systems. Then getting out of our own way.
There is a famous, and oft quoted axiom in the land of my birth – Aotearoa (New Zealand). It comes from the indigenous people of that land, the Māori.
He aha te mea nui? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
What is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people.
So true, so simple.