Crazy-making. So much so that, of course, it’s hard to concentrate on issues around community engagement. The troubles are simply too numerous, too big.
Even so, occasionally something bubbles up that returns me to my CE thinking. One such instance was a New York Times article about masks and vaccines: How to Actually Talk to Anti-Maskers. The initial story was about doctors trying to get Guineans to take the vaccine for Ebola in 2014. There was extreme resistance. Finally a doctor went to a group and spent six hours listening to their concerns. In the end, the doctor said he heard them but still needed to take temperatures and track the virus. Based on his demonstrated willingness to listen and understand, the people with whom he spoke decided to trust him.
The point for this blog revolves around the fact that arts organizations–in spite of the fact that we look on ourselves as adorable, warm, and fuzzy–are not trusted by many communities we might try to reach. This could be either a simple lack of trust or, much more seriously, distrust. Before a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship can be developed, trust must be built. And, as the doctor learned in Guinea, trust building must begin with listening and learning about the people with whom you hope to build relationships. There is no shortcut.
The Times article concludes with the following:
You cannot force public trust; you have to earn it by being humble and transparent, and by listening. And you can’t fake that care and maintenance — it’s the grueling and deeply human work of democracy, which is never finished.
Great advice in medicine. Spot on and important advice in our field.