An interesting short (7:05 mins) TEDx talk about barriers to community engagement. Dave Meslin suggests apathy isn’t the reason people aren’t involved in community engagement initiatives; it is because they are actively discouraged from becoming involved. He gives a number of examples of the way in which barriers are put in the way of community engagement:
- The promotion of community engagement opportunities can be so uninviting – he has an amusing example of what a Nike shoe ad might look like if written by a city hall.
- Money plays far too much of a role in determining who gets to promote their message in the public space – have a look at what messages are on the billboards you pass everyday.
- The media’s treatment of political and social issues does not encourage participation – he compares this to entertainment reporting which is engaging and tells us where to see a film or play, buy the book or eat in a restaurant.
- Movies discourage people from seeing themselves as leaders (or heroes) by suggesting heroes are chosen in some way (e.g., by a prophesy) and then go on to save the world. In reality leadership is based on a collective effort; it is an ongoing, imperfect process; and it is voluntary. (I think this idea needs a bit more work but has some potential.)
- Rather than being a basic entry point to people becoming engaged in politics, political parties are uninspiring and uncreative.
- Organisations with charitable status are not allowed to do advocacy which silences their voice on many important issues.
- Elections use an out-of-date system that are “unfair and create random results”. While he is talking about Canada, I think the idea that the political system helps create cynicism and apathy has much wider relevance.
His key message is:
If we can redefine apathy, not as some kind of internal syndrome, but as a complex web of cultural barriers that reinforces disengagement, and if we can clearly define, we can clearly identify, what those obstacles are, and then if we can work together collectively to dismantle those obstacles, then anything is possible.
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