With the beginning of the new year, I am happy to announce that Dana King, a finder-of-common-ground extraordinaire, will collaborate with me on the Know Your Neighbor blog. Below is her inaugural entry.
But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. Alma 17:25
I spent time organizing my business cards on New Years Day. Many have my hand-written notes on the back: “likes helping youth;” “passionate about history;” “wants to learn family history;” “wants to start a non-profit to help families;” “ran for mayor to unite the community”…etc.
The notes, I find, are the most important part of the card. They remind me about the person on the card, their interests and needs, and where we find common ground.
Someone asked me recently, how do you make so many friends? It’s easy for me to enter a room full of strangers and to leave having made many new friends. That was not always the case. When I was called to serve as Director of Public Affairs for the St. Louis Missouri Stake I wondered what a stay-at-home mom would talk about with a Mayor or community leader.
I put in my back pocket statistics about the Church and rehearsed a dialogue to share with Mayors and other leaders. This helped me develop a conversation, but often I sensed I was received as just another person seeking to promote their organization’s agenda. What I found would engage the mayor - literally I would see a sparkle come to the Mayor’s eyes - is when I’d put my own agenda aside and ask the Mayor about the Mayor. I’d ask: “why did you want to be Mayor?” “What do you want to accomplish?” “How might we help?” And I would jot down the answer later on the back of the Mayor’s business card.
Participating in such an exchange always reminds me of Ammon, when he approached the King of the Lamanites. Ammon did not first seek to present his agenda, rather he sought to know the King’s agenda to better serve him. My approach is about that simple. I use my conversations with people to help me understand their priorities and their goals for bettering the community. And more often than not I can find an area where I can help them accomplish some part of their agenda. If I am looking for a specific way a person can help “my” goals, then I may miss the opportunity to serve their needs or find common ground, especially if “my” ideas are not an exact match to theirs.
My cards came in handy recently. The O’Fallon, Illinois stake public affairs council is planning an activity for Black History Month. I searched my cards for friends. I found one I filed six months previously, a Mr. Petty, whom I met at the Black World History Museum Gala Event. My notes: “wrote history of East St. Louis, wants to help youth understand the history.” The O’Fallon, Illinois Stake is committed to helping Mr. Petty with his oral history projects to involve youth in filming and documenting the histories of families in the community. And, in turn, Mr. Petty is offering to help sponsor the stake’s Black History Month activity by providing resources and expertise.
I collected another card just the other day. It was not at a community event or scheduled meeting. Rather it was while I was shopping at Office Depot. I noticed a woman there who was copying brochures advertising a youth program. “Excuse me, but I just happened to notice your brochure, what is your interest in helping youth?” She gave me her card and on the back I wrote: “teaches teens The 7 HABITS of Highly Effective Teens™; may partner to help youth; expressed interest to attend next Stephen Covey Church fireside.”
Like Ammon, our interest in helping others leads us to opportunities where we can partner with newfound friends outside of the church to serve our communities. Making friends – partners – does not have to take tremendous amounts of time. It’s a matter of being observant and genuinely curious about another person’s interests, all in the course of normal living - while shopping, attending a PTO meeting, a social club or a business lunch.
The longer I live the more I am convinced that the Lord brings people together for His purposes, whether to be accomplished today or later. Who would He have you meet today?