Strengthening Community Relationships in Hard Times

Community relationships pose challenges at even the best of times. I was excited to read recently that California Governor Jerry Brown has declared California’s drought state over for now. Within days of reading that article, I read that Central Florida’s wildfires are being exacerbated by dry conditions. While Florida’s situation is different from California’s, it still occurred to me that the “for now” part of California’s governor’s declaration is something we should all remember. Crises can occur at any time, and as we learned in Tallahassee last year during Hurricane Hermine, community relationships do better in crisis with a plan.

I am re-sharing a post I wrote in 2015, inspired by my horror at the #DroughtShaming I learned about among California neighbors. It’s an important reminder that community relationships are fragile and it is in our ability to nurture them.

Community Relationships

PR Lessons from DroughtShaming

I have a confession to make.

I used to be an anonymous “PoorlyProofed” contributor on Twitter.

Eventually, I started feeling guilty for anonymously calling people out.

I hate typos as much as the next person, but I started to feel that the negativity behind my tweets was weighing me down.

(It doesn’t stop at PoorlyProofed, admittedly. I even blogged about someone who misspelled “angel” on a luminaria MEMORIALIZING THEIR LOVED ONE WHO DIED OF CANCER.)

But it’s a new day, a new year, and perhaps I have evolved.

I have evolved to the point that I have reached a critical mass in my tolerance for anonymous finger-pointing on Twitter.

DroughtShaming

When I was listening to a recent radio story about DroughtShaming, I couldn’t help but feel that this effort was not going to end well.

The drought conditions in California, and the civic actions that have been taken to try to mitigate the effects of the drought, have resulted in the birth of the DroughtShaming hashtag (#droughtshaming).

There’s even an app.

The citizen reporter stands at the offending area, and GPS knows where they are, so the report already includes the address along with the alleged infraction.

Most people will agree that measures need to be taken to deal with the drought conditions in California.

When I see the glee with which some people use DroughtShaming, though, I have to wonder if their motives are altruistic.

I mean, what are the homeowners’ association meetings going to be like for these neighbors in the future?

Distrust Does Not Build Community Relationships

My husband and I were on the receiving end of a summons three years ago for “high grass.”

We deserved the summons. I won’t argue that. 

Our lawnmower had broken, my husband was out of a job, and we did not have the money to fix the lawnmower.

Because the report was made anonymously, there was no way of knowing who had filed it.

I kept wishing whoever had filed the report had offered to let us use their lawnmower instead.

It wasn’t that we WANTED our yard to be an eyesore.

Admittedly, my feelings probably would have been hurt if I had been approached directly by a neighbor, even if they were offering a lawnmower, but after the summons incident, I have always been asking myself  “was it YOU?” when interacting with my neighbors.

Distrust among neighbors does not build a caring community.

Positively Solve Problems

As communicators, we can play a role in more positively solving problems such as the drought-measure compliance.

  1. Connecting: One of the first pieces of strategy has to be to foster a “we’re all in this together” vibe. California is not going to be in drought conditions forever. The day will come when it will not be news that someone is watering their lawn. We need to help people realize a mutual goal of creating a pleasant community is bigger than the issue of sprinklers.
  2. Acknowledge the Issue: I don’t mean to flit around rejoicing that drought is front and center as a problem. Some events are inevitable in the life of a community. If it wasn’t drought, maybe it would be a proliferation of invasive plants, too much rain, or a strike by municipal workers such as the waste management staff. Be clear that drought is a true issue. Don’t gloss over it.
  3. Encouraging Constructive Action: Getting your neighbors fined or using civic resources to write up tickets has little probability of bringing rain down from the sky or of preserving what little water you do have. As a community, you may be at half time of your water management game, but you can still win if you have the right plays.

How can we, as communicators, help keep the civility reservoir full rather than drain it dry?

This blog post was originally published at Spin Sucks as PR Lessons from DroughtShaming.

Community Relationships

The Sahel – Why It Matters

When I read audiobooks, sometimes a passage goes by and I find myself driving along, thinking “did I really hear what I think I heard?” That was the case in a passage of Dreams of Joy by Lisa See when the protagonists are traveling from Shanghai into the countryside, to rescue a family member from starvation during the Great Chinese Famine. As Pearl drives along, she and her companion discover a field where people are in holes. The people are alive, but they can’t get out of the holes (they have been left to die). At first Pearl sees just one person, and she is starting to think of how she can rescue the person. Then she sees that the field is filled with others in the same situation. She is resigned to the fact that she can help no one as her companion Z.G. reminds her that they are on their way to rescue their own flesh and blood.


Like Pearl, when I learned from OxFam America of the desperate situation in the Sahel, and the need to put this situation back in the minds of people, I wondered what I could say or do that would make a difference to even one person in the Sahel. The difference between Pearl’s situation and mine is that she existed in a work of fiction (although the famine was very real); the people of the Sahel are at the epicenter of a crisis and their situation is very, very “non fiction” and we do not have to leave them behind to die.


Photo credit: Oxfam International
First, the basic facts:
The Sahel is a region of West Africa, spanning the southern border of the Sahara Desert, where drought and rising food prices have put an estimated 18 million people at risk of hunger. This number is very likely to increase in coming weeks.
Harvests were poor last year, and drought this year threatens to exacerbate a situation that is already dire. People forage for wild food and search anthills for bits of grain.
 “The situation is difficult here. There’s a problem of rain. It’s been irregular,” said Founé Danfakha, a 60-year-old grandmother of four from Bembou, Senegal, who grows rice, maize, and groundnuts to feed her entire household. “If there’s not enough rain, there won’t be a harvest. And if there is no seed, there’ll be no harvest.”

1 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition.  Parents are forced to sell essential tools and livestock in order to feed their families.What can you and I do to help any of these 18 million people? There are several things.

Donate online via this link. Oxfam America always aims to use your gift to help build lasting solutions to poverty (as opposed to short term fixes).
Spread the word about this issue. Even if you can’t donate right now, you can raise awareness; that can make a difference too. This infographic presents the facts really well. These facts speak for themselves; they go beyond numbers and stats about this crisis; they speak to my heart and emotions.
Support community development When I tweeted on Friday about my plans to blog about the Sahel this weekend, @martinpenner suggested this:

I must admit, I have a lot to learn about what can be done to increase community resiliency. It is mentioned in this informative and compelling article by Nathalie Bonvin as a key strategy to impacting this problem. Gotta say, Martin, learning more is on my to-do list!

Teach your children. Those of you who know me personally know that I am a big believer in “showing” children the issues that exist in our world rather than only “telling” them. I have only been able to travel internationally to see poverty (and the most incredible people) first hand, but that week taught my teenager (and me) more than any book ever could. Show your children what you can; encourage them to care. Few of us can travel; everyone can watch a YouTube video:
 
Spread the word. In our age of social media connectedness, it is easy to forget that the old fashioned method (conversing) works just as well. That was the case for me yesterday when I was telling people about preparing for this blog. Face to face — mom to mom — friend to friend — sometimes the most elegant way to ignite interest is to invite someone to learn along with you by saying, “I’m learning about the Sahel – have you or your child heard of it?”
There are several graphics here that can be shared via Facebook and Twitter.
Speaking of spreading the word, celebrities are investing their time and fame to help remediate the funding lag that exists. These celebrities include Kristin Davisand Djimon Hounsou.
I agree with Hounsou: “To some of us, this problem is a world away and is easy to ignore, but I implore you to pay attention.”
 Visit Djimon Hounsou’s personal fundraising/awareness page here.