We take care of our three year old grandson on Thursdays. Being “that kind” of grandparents we tend to buy things we think he might like. Our most recent purchase was a streetscape rug (see photo) where he can play with his prodigious quantity of cars and, especially, trucks.
We had just gotten it out of the box the last time he came to our house. He thoroughly enjoyed it. And when it was time to go we told him we would lay it out flat on the floor until his next visit so the wrinkles would go away. (Again, see photo.)
He would have none of it and told us so in no uncertain terms. The topographical interest those wrinkles created was a feature not a flaw. (Not his words, but that was the idea.) So the wrinkles will remain as long as we can make them last.
See where I’m going here? The merits of wrinkle-free rugs were an unexamined assumption, so deep that we did not even know we were assuming anything.
Community engagement is about building relationships. This requires communication–speaking, yes; but also listening and hearing! Effective communication requires that we park our assumptions at the door and entertain the possibility that things we learn about people’s interests and desires may surprise us. As I always say (to the point of irritating those who know me well), “We don’t know that we don’t know what we don’t know.”
Allow yourself the flexibility to understand that a wrinkled rug might be a valued option, even if that doesn’t occur to you on your own.