Step 1: Find the Passion or Point of Connection
Finding the key points of strength and passion is the first step to cultural shifting. To build a strong bridge we must have a solid foundation to ensure the bridge will be safe for passage. The passage of people, products, or ideas into culture requires the same strength. To this end we must identify all that is strong or good about that which we hope to shift the culture around.
For people, this means we look for the following elements in them:
When we find any or all of these things in people it helps us in two ways in supporting them. One is that the identified passion or skill helps uplift the person. In fact, it is a type of empowerment. What we mean here is that when a passion is identified in a person, the acknowledgement of this passion is extremely strengthening. People like to talk about that which they enjoy, and this leads to empowerment. Think about it—empowerment is a feeling we get when we are relevant and respected. When we identify a person’s skills, this naturally makes him or her feel good.
Contrast this with a focus on people’s problems or deficiencies. When you identify problems, especially those that are difficult to address or erase, you are actually disempowering. You never feel good about the things you cannot do or the things you do not do well.
This negative perspective, however, is exactly the way our system deals with difference or disability. Think about it. When a person with a disability is referred to a human service agency, the first thing that happens is a formal assessment of the person’s problems. These assessments are performed with detailed tests and reports. Once the problems are identified and labeled, an individualized program plan (IPP) is developed, and most often the effort is to fix the person’s problem.
This deficiency model creates a negative slant and skews the process. It causes people to think negatively and critically about their reality. Further, serious frustration can occur if the problem cannot really be fixed. In many ways this is not the route to empowerment. In fact, focusing on problems continues to bait negativity and it sets the tone for a poor self-image.
The capacity process suggests the exact opposite. By looking for those things that are positive and strength oriented, we can help people build on those capacities they already have and promote their relevancy to the community. The same is true with products or ideas. When we look for and find the positive elements of ideas or products, we signal the initial points of connection of these things to the greater community. Obviously, when we itemize the good points of an idea we are more apt to get others to endorse or embrace that idea. The same is true with products. That is why advertisers stress the positive aspects of their products. As simple as this seems, the positive factors are the reason you buy the product.
The following experience highlights this notion. A number of years ago one of the authors attended a three-day gathering with people from all over the country. When the presenter came into the room, he asked everyone to take out a sheet of paper. He asked everyone to write the word “positives” on the top of the page and to privately identify as many good things about themselves as they could. Folks looked around at each other and then started in on the task. Within five minutes the presenter got their attention and asked them to again take out another sheet of paper. This time he told them to write the word “negatives” on the top and fill in as many problems, deficits, or struggles they have. Again, people got right into the task. At this point the presenter asked for a volunteer to illustrate some points. As is typical, most folks looked away, but the presenter made eye contact with Al. “Sir, please stand up and pass your positive list to the person to your right,” he said. Being the good volunteer, Al complied with the request and passed his “positive” list to the person to his right. To this person he did not know, the presenter said, “Please introduce this man to your left, using his list as a guide.” This person stood up and began to introduce Al by referring to the good things he had written about himself. Al smiled sheepishly and looked around at these unknown people as he was being introduced. Shaking his head affirmatively, the presenter then looked back at Al and asked that he now pass the “negative” list to the person to his left. Al paused and then hesitantly handed his second list to the person. Again, an introduction occurred by a stranger, this time using Al’s “negative” items. Al did not know these people and as they came to know him through his problems and struggles he felt embarrassed and ashamed. Even as a conference activity, when you are identified with negative items, it hurts.
In many cases people know their passions and interests, and they are quick to tell you if your bent is toward looking for the positives. With other folks you have to dig. In the work we do with our agency, we often meet folks who have been so sheltered or inexperienced that they do not readily display their passions. Some people have been so devalued that they cannot seem to find their passions at all. In these types of situations we must give the time and space necessary for people to identify those points of connections. This only happens when people feel valued and respected. It also happens when we welcome and include those who have a history with the person to help uncover the passions. Families or other relations have been invaluable for the capacity-building work we do in Pittsburgh.