Working with the right small pieces…
Ok – so I know off the bat, that I am going to need you to journey with me a little bit – but I feel confident that the payoff is worth it.
Do you remember the movie Working Girl? Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford? Trask Radio? Either way – it is about putting two unrelated elements together to make something better… This is going to be one of those instances, but it is actually three things maybe even four!!!!
Roger’s Innovation Curve + Compassionate Exhaustion + Radical Amazement
First – the innovation curve – the idea here is about marketing dollars. Major corporations target their marketing dollars to specific buyers. The curve (a bell curve like the image above) takes into consideration (from left to right) the early adopters, main stream, and laggards. For example, the next iPhone – there are some people (about 16% of the population) that already know when the next one will be coming out and they will be first in line to get it. This is an early adopter. Then there is another group that might get it within the first month or so – they aren’t sleeping in tents for it, but they get it early. Then there is a gap – if product sales can jump this gap then the product will eventually become ubiquitous within the general population (the bulk of the curve). However, there will always be a small group of people that no matter what – will not buy the product (13%) that is represented on the far right side of the curve. The cell phone has bridged the gap and is fairly ubiquitous, but there are still some hold outs. The Snuggie hasn’t made the jump as made apparent by my hotel blanket not having sleeves.
If you understand the Innovation Curve, then I want you to connect the dots with our social justice work. Often, we do work with others (and with ourselves) paying the most attention to the far right side of the curve. In essence we are wasting our marketing dollars, or in this case our limited resources, on the very folks that aren’t buying. Meanwhile, we are ignoring the parts of ourselves (and the eager choir members) on the far left side. Our early adopters, are the students or colleagues that are in our offices before we are or show up to every program. We begin to not even count them in our programming counts – they seem to matter less than the new people or the bigger wins from the unknown groups. Moreover, we do this with our own development. There are parts of my behaviors that I have successfully grown and value, but instead of paying attention to this progress, I just stumble over my problem areas. It is like biting the inside of your mouth – the parts you don’t like (or the people that you want to change) – they are there as a constant reminder of what needs to be done.
Now for the last layer – the gaps between the far left and the far right (totally less that 30% of the total population) are where social justice practices meet theories. I will admit, I am intimidated using the word theory here because of the high level of academic access of this blog’s readers. So instead of cowering behind a decade old Master’s – let me explain how I came to these “theories.”
I have had a therapist since my mother died 20 years ago, now, I go once a semester or so for what I call a tune up. Traveling the country doing social justice work has am emotional impact and occasionally, I need to process that out. In one of these sessions, I was introduced to the concepts/theories of Compassionate Exhaustion and Radical Amazement. I goggled Compassionate Exhaustion and wasn’t satisfied with what I found, so I will cite my shrink, Caroline Isaacs here, but she doesn’t remember saying it. She does remember recommending that I read Abraham Joshua Heschel’s
God In Search of Man (1955) as that is where she first learned of Radical Amazement. I have purchased the book and it is in my stack to read. With this in mind – I will continue making connections between the iPhone, the choir, and the big win.
My Working Girl moment here stopped me in my tracks. I found myself staring at the gap between the far right and the bulk of the curve – I will call this Compassionate Exhaustion. Why does my work not make more change? How do I make Fred Phelps less homophobic? I wanted to heavy lifting to pay off for a big win. This Compassionate Exhaustion was – is – exhausting.
It took an appointment with my shrink for me to back up, turn around, and see the fans, the choir, my people and the amazing and radical work we were doing. This gap is Radical Amazement and there is no other self motivator than progress and feeling connected and joined in struggle. Feeling not alone and purposeful allows me to continue my work. This work; with others and within myself. Moreover, this allows me to take care of myself to stay in the work. Compassionate Exhaustion leads to burn out. I don’t want to burn out knowing I am right. I want to join others in my questioning and uncertain work. Otherwise, I will end up a crouton in a great t-shirt.
When working from Radical Amazement – I can work with the pieces of me and my community – no matter how small – and stay in the work. I can move with others and without answers. Radical Amazement is for the Early Adapters and eager choir members to inspire the masses. It is from this place that I can stay connected, motivated, and truly excited about the unwinnable social justice work left to be done within me and my community.
Jessica Pettitt is the “diversity educator” your family warned you about. Through teaching, writing, and facilitating tough conversations, she has figured out how to BE the change she wants to BE. Now it is your turn! As she travels around the country, you can catch up with Jessica on: