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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?