By Mark Braud, Globe and Mail, March 1, 2012
Mark Braude is six feet tall. Having researched the tiny principality of Monaco for five years for his dissertation, he knows a few things about “small.” He is completing a PhD in European history at USC.
The English language derides smallness at every turn.
What could be less pleasant than a small-time, small-fry, petit-bourgeois hotelier in some one-horse Podunk town who is being short with you about some small-potatoes, small-beer issue? Are you supposed to get into the nitty-gritty about the price (specified in the small print) of that bite-sized chocolate bar you took from the mini-bar in your dinky (originally meaning neat and trim) room, barely big enough to be called a junior suite, with the tacky (which used to refer to a small and thus inferior horse) wallpaper? Who would want to make this kind of small talk with such a petty person
Mr. Braud proceeds to list many of the excellent "small" features of our world. Here, I would like to approach the subject a little differently.
First, we seem to be drowning in an insatiable appetite for "more" and "bigger" and "richer" and thereby more powerful. It is not only the English language that derides smallness 'at every turn'. It is our perceptions that turn a small businesss into a bigger business, as the only significant sign of success. If an entrepreneur has one outlet doing well, he must want or develop at least three other outlets to demonstrate his ambition, his commitment and his desire to "grow"...
A church must have 10,000 members in order to demonstrate its "success" as compared with a small mission church with merely 25 members each of whom knows and cares and takes responsibility for the other 24 in a way those 10,000 could not and would not do. And that dynamic of "caring" is known as "community," a place were those 25 are known, respected, spoken with, not at, and nurtured not merely counted, for their presence and their "dollars" in the plate.
The same thing matters in a political party, whose very existence depends on getting the largest number of votes, and therby the largest number of members in a government, and thereby gaining power.
For example, the Liberal Party of Canada is now at one of its lowest nadirs in its history. Membership has fallen and the push is on to "grow the numbers" and "grow the dollars." However, it is not rocket science to wonder out loud if the "goal" of growing the numbers of both members and contributions has to take a back seat to "developing relationships" with the smaller number of members who have remained loyal, who have sweated it out when the party was being decimated and who have started to wonder if they even matter, so important are those "new" associates who, because of a change in the rules, no longer have to become official "members" but who can merely say they are "associates" and that would give the party "bragging rights" to bigger numbers.
And therein lies the black hole. Bigger numbers of people who are merely associated with the party will not necessarily generate more phone calls (of the appropriate kind!), more knocks on more doors, more newsletters, and more letters to the editor, or more social events at the riding level. They will merely be "hanging around" as associates, much like the armies of associates many people have on Facebook, without any of those being "friends".
We need to examine how we nurture relationships, not just how we accumulate those relationships. We need to pause, to reflect and to make a deliberate attempt to "listen" to the wishes and the desires of those already "in the fold" and not merely tap them like a large tree for the sap they might produce in cheques, so that the party can move forward.
Churches across North America have witnessed a vacating of their numbers, their members, because no one listened to those people, no one got to know those people no one cared who those people really are, and what kinds of pain (physical, emotional, economic, psychic) those people were experiencing. And when any church leader attempted to guide, teach, mentor the development of relationships, those leaders were either rejected or "ejected" from their positions because they were too "pushy" or "too ____(fill in the blank) meaning "not one of us and how we do things here."
Relationships between people, and among people do not just happen. They have to be nurtured, and that takes time, and it takes listening and then responding to the "other" and political parties are much better at "talking" than listening, and at asking for money than at asking "who" the person is. And this is not an argument for political parties to replace the lost role of the churches.
If the Liberal Party is to "grow" into a vital, thinking, feeling, sentient organization where people bring their ideas, and where others listen to those ideas, REALLY LISTEN! and where people feel welcome and enthusiastic about their "belonging" then there has to be a culture shift, from the externals and the extrinsics, to the organic and the intrinsics and that is going to take, not a tsunami of numbers but a series of small waves of interest "in the other" which, after all, is the purpose of the political party in the first place....to listen to the needs, aspirations and hopes and fears of the people of the country....A great place to begin would be at the riding level, and the only time to begin is NOW!
One simple way of adopting this idea would be to develop both policies and practices that help every member to develop his or her leadership skills, in the most comfortable and most appropriate way, determined by the member. That is to say, not merely evoking the "skills" of the member, to serve the larger needs of the organization, but using the organization to facilitate the development of other skills for each individual, so there is some enthusiasm attached to belonging, because there is personal growth to the relationship.