Learning the hard way. Really bad things have come from nice people with good intentions. Think charity and aid. Do-gooders, nice people, good intentions, going into other communities and trying to fix them. It rarely works. It smacks of arrogance and righteousness, wrapped in honest good intention. Africa can tell you a million stories of the damage done by nice people with good intentions. (Check out The Blue Sweater, by Jacqueline Novogratz)
Most of all it is extremely lacking any form of deep listening to the very community you are trying to serve.
I am deep in the shit of learning this lesson. The brunt of it came through an experience I am still living in, where I was the community not listened to. Perfect. Slap. Across. My attention.
It is a somewhat small story, but in its smallness points to so much that is not working in our world currently, where power and the 1% do not have any interest in listening to or understanding anyone not in their world. And so we get the world we have got. Indeed most of the horror we have is because of a failure to listen or a lack of desire to truly understand the other.
In my local beach side community, my daughter and I have been customers of a coffee shop with Pacific ocean views, wifi, and the best coffee. I spend at least 5 hours a week at this shop. I have made friends there, get most of my best thinking done there, and each day feel so incredibly grateful and blessed to have the view, and the pleasure of the locally roasted artisan coffee, made with love by a young entrepreneur deeply passionate about coffee.
This week the shop was sold. The new owner, overnight, removed the beans that had been a part of the coffee shop from its opening, a brand really well known to our local community. Every day queues of people would line up for their coffee. Our small community of passionate coffee lovers knew they could come here to get their coffee.
On Wednesday they couldn’t.
The brand of beans that built the community was gone, replaced by another one, which while supposed to be quality, has no relationship with the community of the coffee shop, or our larger local community.
I have spent some time speaking to the new owner. A lovely man, recently moved here from Sydney. Nice person, with intentions to serve the best coffee. There you are, nice person, good intentions. Failure to listen.
I wonder why he never considered he was buying a community and not a coffee shop? And why he didn’t bother to ask the community what they wanted. He didn’t like the coffee. Ok. But over the course of a good 5 hours a week, 5 days a week, for 4 years, I had seen people line up for the coffee they had come for. I would have guessed they were voting with their feet, and their wallet.
And I wonder, was he buying a coffee shop so he could get the coffee he wanted, or to give his customer the coffee they wanted? (Different if he had of started a shop from scratch and had to build from scratch his own community.)
Examining our real intentions, the ones that lie deep under the surface…is something we often fail to do. Telling ourselves the truth of why we do something…the bone hard truth…this is hard. Few people have the stomach for it. Its too revealing. The person who donates to charity? Why? really why? Is it about helping people in need? Or assuaging guilt?
Back to the hard lesson. I am generally a nice person. I speak my mind and don’t suffer people who treat others with disrespect. But I like to be nice. I do.
And I have really good intentions. Rarely are my intentions other than good. But then again, I think this is true of most people, even those who end up doing bad things.
I am working in my community to build a community. And I have done exactly what the new coffee shop owner has done. I have imposed what I think the community wants onto the community without caring enough to go to them and ask them what they actually want.
And in doing this, I have disrespected the very people I purport to serve. Boom. Ouch.
Good intentions are not enough. I have to go to the community, ask amazing questions, listen, listen more, ask more questions, seek to understand, listen more….keep listening, and then we make a decision.
And, I have to be bone hard deeply honest with myself as to why I am doing what I do.
Yesterday I was in despair. So much of what I am working on with Big Blue Sky has stalled, and I am seriously questioning what I am doing. (At the same time, my sanctuary coffee shop has gone from me, which just breaks my heart.)
My friend Dion, sensing my despair, sent this to me.
When you feel like quitting think about why you started.
Time for me to go back to source, to connect with the deep why, to speak some hard truths, AND, if I arise still resolute to continue on my path, to take my best intentions as the animating impulse to then go direct to the community and listen to them. Ask them for their input. Invite in vs impose.
I want to be respected and included. I want to feel like my voice matters, that people will listen. Am I offering that very desire I seek to the people in our community? And how can I do this better, and better again, and even better than that?
This small lesson is one of the biggest to be learned by all of us. By anyone in leadership, or community building, or politics, or power. Failure to do so will continue to lead us down the track of divisiveness, conflict, and ultimately violence.
I have lost my morning sanctuary, and the network of friends I got to know through the coffee shop. We have scattered to the wind. Change is constant and often brought on wings of sadness.
The question is…have I got the lesson?
PS. I only drink one cup of coffee a day. Maybe it is time for me to stop?
PSS. Photo of the view from my now lost to me coffee shop.