June 29, 2021
Three Obstacles to Three Opportunities
I returned to the movie theater this past month for the first time since the COVID-19 to watch In the Heights. I like the movie musicals genre, and this latest work did not disappoint. The messages of opportunity, obstacle, struggle and triumph were weaved rhythmically within its distinct Latin Caribbean style. Showcasing life and community in a New York City neighborhood very different than my own upbringing in a rural midwestern community was insightful and challenging.
At its core, the story centers on young adults striving to find their way, grow in their identity, and connect meaningfully with community. Trust and doubt, internal and external, weave together to create a dynamic story. And sure enough, the central characters are faced with daunting challenges, significant doubts, glimmers of hope, and a choice. Like any good story, the viewer wonders in that moment, will they fall into discouragement, disillusionment and give up OR will they rise up, engage and overcome.
We all know that the story of Extension in Kansas communities unfolds in many of the same ways.
What choice will we make when we encounter change?
We are all painfully aware of the obstacles still in front of us and yet inspired by the opportunities to engage and involve others in our ongoing extension work.
I want to clarify three obstacles and three opportunities that I observe are influencing our day-to-day extension work.
1) Stress and Fatigue – It does not take much to recognize that many of us and our stakeholders are tired, fatigued, irritable, and overall discontented and sometimes we don’t even know why (even as we open and re-engage in programming).
2) Mistrust of Authority – This past year has only accelerated polarization, and I am not just talking politics, but when we are stressed or fearful people create “in” and “out” groups and then seek allegiance. Leadership has always been challenging but coming out of this past year even small decisions can be more difficult than anticipated.
3) Misinformation – When we are tired, stressed, and mistrustful of authority, we are prone to believe anything, especially if it fits our “in” group narrative. Critical thinking is challenged especially when each side of an issue claims “common sense” as the reason they believe.
These factors are corrosive to any organization. But how do we move forward towards a more opportunistic future?
1) Self-Care – Take care of yourself. Take time for yourself. Rest, relax. Take breaks. I am realizing that the pace of work will increase quicker than my ability to juggle it coming off of a COVID year. Trying to implement changes while “reclaiming” those past practices is inherently more demanding on all of us, whether in our personal or professional life.
2) Choose Trust over Suspicion - We always experience a gap between what we expect people to do and what they actually do. The attitude we possess when we encounter that gap influences the choices and actions that can either close that cap or make it wider.
3) Choose Engagement – We are taught as professionals to listen to, respond and not react. Working to build rapport or build trust is critical. Engaging with each other to help clarify perceptions and seek understanding is essential to teamwork in any context (i.e. facilitation skills). Without it even simple tasks fall apart. Working together to clarify what is the issue, decision, and responsibilities are equally critical. Issues before us are more than any one person can address alone.
The Extension story centers on communities striving to find their way, grow in their identity, and connect meaningfully with each other. Trust and doubt, internal and external, weave together to create a dynamic story. Central characters are faced with daunting challenges, significant doubts, glimmers of hope, and choices. Like any good story, the viewer wonders in that moment,
will they fall into discouragement, disillusionment, and give up?
OR will they rise up, engage, and overcome?
No matter what the topic that challenges you: diversity and inclusion, digital programming, resuming in-person programming, county fair preparations, 4-H camp changes, hiring challenges, changing supervisors, KEEP TRUSTING, KEEP ENGAGING. You got this! We are all in the extension business of human development for the sake of community vitality. Helping people change is valuable and challenging work! #BetterTogether
I invite you to rise up, engage and overcome. Keep engaging change and shaping the future of extension work in Kansas!