January 26, 2023

you lost me there

a sunset with silhouettes of trees
photo caption: looking at the horizon through a canopy of trees. the sun is setting and the sky is dark blue and orange with a faint streak of pink between them. this is the time of night when i have just enough night vision to be dangerous.

Nod if this has happened to you before (full disclosure: I can’t see you). You might strike up a conversation with a coworker about rent prices. They’re too high! What are landlords even doing with that money? You might have a gallows-tinged laugh or two about how the hellscape we live in may get worse forever. At which point you say, “and of course all housing should be free, right? Even the phrase ‘cost of living’ is disgusting! We shouldn’t have to pay to live!” They might stop nodding, or get quiet, letting awkwardness in like a tiny skunk. “Well,” they might say, “you lost me there. That will never work.”

If we want to achieve a future worth fighting for, we’re going to need help. But as coalitions expand, so too do our ideas for how to get where we want to go. People closer to power may think that their idea is all it will take to achieve justice. Instead, their plans may be upholding the ways we’ve always done things. Or their idea of progress is whatever will keep them at the same income level or social standing. Anything more is “radical.”

How could we help nudge people past the limits of what they’re willing to fight for? How can we get others to start thinking about the most radical thing they can push for in their industry? We need to start with ourselves.

am i radical enough?

No matter how progressive a person thinks they are, we could all be doing more. We live in a society with deep inequities. Anyone with any sort of privilege can still see themselves at the bottom of a very tall ladder. We only know what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know. Here’s how I started pushing myself towards more radical opinions:

Receive wisdom from people with skin in the game. I learn from people who are closer to the issue I’m thinking about. I don’t bother with second-hand stories; I go to the people with lived experience. These are the people who are often fighting for their lives. Find out what they’re doing and what kind of help they might need.

I ask questions with respect, do my research, and accept that there’s still plenty I don’t know.

Think about the next step in my plan. Logic models are like catnip to nonprofit funders. “If we see problem X, we will do action Y, that will lead to result Z, which will lead to outcomes e, i, e, i, and o.” Reality is never as simple as the logic models say it will be. That’s no excuse for giving your pet idea a pass. How will it play out?

If your big idea for ending homelessness stop at building more housing, what will happen when we do? Will our current system of exploitation buy up all the new properties and raise rents again? What if we flood a market that sees property as an investment with more property? Will housing suddenly trickle down to people who need it? Doesn’t that mean we need larger or more structural change to actually solve the problem?

how can i persuade others to do more?

Position the status quo as a choice. When people plan for the future, they often pit ideas against each other. What goes untouched is what’s happening right now. Is the present-day state acceptable to us? I am not a fan of incrementalism for this reason. In so many ways, my equity and antiracism goals require some pretty serious shifts to our present-day society. Why should we settle for a tiny 2% improvement? Who does that inspire?

Ask your colleagues, what’s the danger of doing doing nothing? What’s the harm in trying to go further? Encourage them to consider alternate proposals without dismissing them. If they think it won’t work, find out why they think that. Could they have misunderstood the proposal? Do they have a “gut feeling” that it just can’t work like we say it will? I may not be able to reject that feeling if they have more power than me. I like knowing if I can help resolve a concern through logic, or if someone is going to shut down any idea I propose. If it’s the latter, disengage and try a different path or person.

I recently learned about a de-escalation model known as the CLARA Method. Here are the steps.

Calm and Center: focus on your breathing and find calm before you engage.
Listen: approach the discussion as a dialogue, not a debate. Focus on what they’re saying, not how you can refute it.
Affirm: express any connection you can find between yourself and their perspective.
Respond: address the issue or concern that the person raised. Don’t avoid the question.
Add information: once you have a personal connection, share what you know. What information led you to the position you chose?

Persuading someone to do more might not feel the same as de-escalating a conflict. I would argue that challenging someone’s beliefs is a form of escalation. We’re asking someone to step out of their comfort zone and towards our own.

I try to appeal to the values we share. What ideologies do we have in common? Aren’t we both trying to solve this problem, if in different ways? Open people up to new perspectives or ideas that may fall outside of their own worldview.

the agonies of pushing forward

There are so many people around the world who are trying to drag their societies backwards. Tiny steps forward might feel like they’re enough. Incremental change might feel safe–but it carries real risk, too. What if it doesn’t work? What if it causes harm, either in the short-term or the long-term? Trust is the glue that binds us together in solidarity. That can mean trusting others to recognize what we can’t. Trust means that when I say, “you lost me there,” someone will come back to get me.

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space