Developing Community Empathy

Developing Community Empathy

My family and I are Marvel fans. Personally, I struggle with the DC line-up. Either the character is mostly dark and angsty (aka Batman) or too perfect and good (aka Superman). But the Marvel characters (at least as the movie franchise has envisioned them) are complex. They are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Even the villains share this complexity. They’re superhuman, but Marvel has chosen to emphasize the human more than the super. So, I, as fully human, can relate to these flawed heroes.

In our humanity, we are all deeply flawed. It’s part of what it is to be human – to make mistakes, and hopefully learn from those mistakes. Unfortunately, sometimes, those mistakes have consequences for others, and sometimes even our good intentions have negative consequences.

I’ve been with Lubbock Area United Way for six and a half years. Before that, was a fifteen-year career spanning out from Lubbock, around the globe, and back home in 2012, when I began working for Community Partner Catholic Charities followed by Community Partner the Volunteer Center. If you’ve heard me speak about my experiences, then you know my love for building community and my belief that collaboration is the key to a thriving one. But we do also get things wrong. Sometimes in our motivation to help we make mistakes, or we make decisions that have unintended consequences. You simply can’t get around it. (Don’t believe me? Watch Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War).

I believe that a key foundation for a thriving community is to assume that others have good intentions and often, taking that posture requires putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

The first team development I led after being appointed CEO at the beginning of August was around the concept of “community empathy”. Our goal was to understand the communities we interact with (volunteers, donors, partner agencies, Lubbock, the surrounding area, etc.) and learn to practice empathy as we work together with them.

What does this look like? It's assuming that the volunteer who is not calling back is tied up with work, family, and other personal priorities. Then ask the question, How I can better support him, or should I give him the freedom to step out of the position?

Assuming that the partner agency team member who was in a bad mood at that day’s workshop wasn’t angry at you but was worried about the build-up of paperwork on her desk. Ask the question, How can we provide training support in a different way that best meets the needs of our partners and helps them manage their workload and their time?

If we expand outside of United Way, it's assuming that it's not that Alyssa’s mom doesn’t care since she never shows up to anything but that she’s a single mom working more than one job to make ends meet. Food and shelter come before education and extracurriculars. Ask the question, What resources can I connect her with like Communities in Schools for in-school support or the Goodwill Career Resources Center to help her gain skills and find a higher-wage job?

Community empathy requires us to expand our own worldview and step into another’s perspective. It can be difficult, but as we do, we learn that we are truly Better Together.

Coming into the CEO role at United Way, I know I’m going to get things wrong. I know I’m going to make mistakes. I know that as a team, sometimes our best intentions will have unintended consequences. Our mission is Giving ∙ People ∙ Hope, and our goal as a team is to live up to it. So, I’d ask for a little grace as we get going on this new chapter at Lubbock Area United Way, and when you need a little from me or our team, we’ll give it back to you. That’s what being human is, after all.

Thank you for your incredible generosity and support for United Way. Together let’s build a thriving South Plains.

- Amanda McAfee, President & CEO