Once upon a time, back before I joined facebook, I was invited to speak to 5th and 6th grade English students in a Romanian village. After an hour of delightfully random questions, my bus was coming and it was time for last call. 10 seconds to go and a boy in the back raised his hand – ‘what’s the difference between Europe and America?’
I considered answering in my most faux Texan drawl ‘dubya dubya two,’ spiking a football (an American one) and moonwalking out the door, proudly saluting to the Stars and Stripes floating in my mind’s eye.
Many potential answers, kid. Gun control. Socialism. Fashion sense. Language. Bankruptcy law and innovation. The things we are honest about. The things we lie about. How we generalize and cast aspersions. What we consider to be good beer.
Frankly, I don’t think about it that much. The topic is a bit ridiculous. Things are different. True story. Some are bad. Some are good.
But since today is your favorite holiday – – Schuman Day (a.k.a. the EU’s Europe Day [unlike that poseur EC Europe Day on the 5th which totally is not the real Europe Day]), I would offer one thing that’s has been a bit different, at least to me, and has influenced my life’s work to date – – the difference between ‘process’ and ‘product’ in social change work.
When I dove, head-first, into my small-town Transylvania Peace Corps placement, I was rather focused on ‘product.’ Getting to the end. Crossing the finish line. Winning. Completion. Social change-d.
Part of it was youth. Part of it was coming out of American civil-society where, with a citizenry prepped for philanthropy, it was simply easier in my fundraising and communications work to skip a few steps.
Then one day early on, my counterpart and I were out in a village to pick up some lumber for a training center we decided to build. The mill-guy shows up and says the wood isn’t ready. My counterpart, a bit annoyed ‘we paid you!’ Lumber mill guy, looking him square in the eye ‘sure, but it’s not really all about the money, is it?’
And so it came to pass that we went to the pub.
And about that time that I noticed everyone in European civil society seemed to want to talk all the time. Conferences, workshops, round-tables, discussions, discussions, discussions. With all this talking, when the hell were we going to get anything finished? And consensus? Seriously? Even we Quakers know that’s a pipe dream.
Among other happenings and realizations like the above I came to understand it was going to be damn hard to actually finish any of my wild ideas in a two-year volunteerism stint (which I probably knew on a rational level, but on a purely American level… well, you may have seen my Cap’t America photo shoot…). Once I stopped hyperventilating, I began to re-engineer my own thinking to focus on process.
To be fair: I am not sure that this is exactly what the aforementioned Talkers were really all about but, true to form, I adopted what I liked and moved on.
Call it la (civil) dolce vita. The kind where you hang out on balconies philosophizing, and follow up with lots of coffee and discussion before you get to getting done. I consider it an opportunity for reflection and connection. Consider it a way to make sure what you are doing is actually relevant.
Consider it a good way to structure potential failure by ensuring you create space, dialog and dialectics, show some things were possible, and build community – all successes even if you don’t win the big game.
As long as you do get to getting done sometimes. Really now. You do have to win something, sometimes, so people keep coming back to play.
Anyhoo. Thanks for that Europe. Much obliged. Now please pardon me while I head out for a pre-Schuman Day parade brainstorming coffee with some potential comrades… assuming we can come to consensus on a logical framework matrix and methodology. Don’t worry, we’ll write a white paper about it and get back to you.
NOTE: yet another nearly synchronous blog postings with two of my favorite people – read their take @ http://madamadepica.blogspot.roand http://codruvrabie.blogspot.ro. Each week we write on a theme. Feel free to propose a topic.