There’s a Greek proverb that society grows when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. This represents the ultimate selfless act where someone acts not in their interest but in the entire community’s interest.
First, let’s clear up two things.
These proverbial old men also reap the benefits by leaving society better for their children and their children’s children. Second, this selfless action is not reserved for the old and the sage. Some would argue that it’s the youngest of the community that should lead the charge.
So, if everything’s so great, why aren’t more people engaged in these civic matters? What’s stopping them, and, most importantly, how do we overcome common barriers to civic engagement? Let’s find out!
It takes a lot of time
Donating is noble and grand, but it’s also the easiest way out. The thing is that most of the time, you can just push a couple of buttons and send a set amount to the cause of your choosing. Now, we’re not trying to diminish anyone’s accomplishment. It’s your money that you’ve worked so hard for. If you decide to make this kind of logical conversion, you could say you’ve donated your work (a day of labor, etc.).
Here, the barrier to civic engagement is that is always takes extra time (time you could have spent at home reading or doing something else). You get home from work and can’t fulfill your humanitarian obligation by donating money. You need to make an actual effort to make a change.
A good side of this is that it gets you directly in touch with the cause you’re fighting for. It helps you understand it better and assists you in caring more. Sending money is somehow too impersonal. Instead, you need a way to get there and personally engage with the project.
It doesn’t start on time
The easiest way to adopt habits is to do so while young. With civic engagement, it, sadly, doesn’t start this way. For most people, it takes time until they’re mature enough to realize the importance of civic engagement on their own. Hence, this becomes one of the barriers to civic engagement.
This is so remorseful because young people have the most passion and energy. All you need to do is direct this passion and energy correctly, and the entire community will reap the benefits.
The best way to overcome this challenge is to start programs that will provide civic engagement examples for students and encourage them to pick those they like best.
Now, keep in mind that the approach makes all the difference here. First, remember yourself at that age and how hard it was to take anything seriously. Still, with the right program, this can be incredibly fun. Also, there’s always a social aspect to these activities, which gives you another USP (unique selling proposition) to sweeten the pot further.
People are skeptical
People are skeptical about change. They are often polled and asked for their opinion, but nothing comes out. This made people’s engagement fatigued and becomes of course, one of the barriers to civic engagement. It’s not that they don’t have the time or energy; it’s just that they don’t see the point.
The best way to overcome this is to show them an example of a successful civic engagement project. This must be a success story, with an accent both on success and story. You need to make it as vivid in their mind as possible. Using various storytelling techniques while presenting the situation or when making a presentation usually does the trick.
You want people to understand that this time it will be different. You need to make them believe. This is easier than you think because, deep inside, they want to believe. Why wouldn’t they? If you could do something great for their neighborhood, it would (both directly and indirectly) benefit them. They have all the incentive to believe you, all you need to do is find the right way to give them a push.
While most of these humane causes seem quite straightforward, and finding the motivation to persist in them seems intuitive, this won’t always be the case. First of all, finding motivation is incredibly hard. People want to do the right thing, but do they want it enough? Fortunately, there are less noble motivators out there.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that some people engage in civic activities for a social score. They want to be seen there and take some photos while doing it so that they can brag online. First, there are worse (less effort- and labor-intensive) ways to get attention. If they actually make an effort, they’ve earned bragging rights in our books.
If a person actually spends time making a change, who cares if they’re doing it just for social clout? From the perspective of utilitarianism, it’s only the outcome that counts. Here, the outcome is overwhelmingly positive.
Unwillingness to acknowledge there’s a problem
A lot of the time, admitting that there’s a problem is the toughest thing to do. If you admit there’s a problem, you’ll have to actively work on its resolution, which is why pretending everything’s fine might be a simpler move.
Suppose you’ve ever watched a cult classic, Starship Troopers. In that case, you know that famous phrase that a difference between a citizen and a civilian (*complex movie lore) is that citizens see collective good as their responsibility.
This is the best ethical stance to take on these opinions. From a philosophical standpoint, this is called deontological ethics (the name deriving from the Latin word for duty).
One of the most common civic engagements is also engaging in dialogue, and many people just can’t handle adversity. While the internet has given us so many great things, it has also allowed us to create these echo chambers. In these digital communities, we surround ourselves with people who think the same way.
How can you tell if you’re tolerant if you only surround yourself with people you like?
This is a huge problem from a technical standpoint. It makes you intellectually lazy. If you can never defend your political and sociological stances, you’ll fail to examine them critically. You won’t have all the right arguments and know the facts that support your side. This doesn’t mean that you would be wrong, only that you would be right by chance.
The problem with this is that facing opposition almost always has a negative connotation. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can have disagreements with people without feuding, and sometimes the best ideas come out of compromise.
After all, you’re all in the same community. You’ll have to keep living side-by-side with your different-minded neighbor tomorrow and the day after. That’s right; this is the person you’ll meet when you go to the grocery store, not that one random person from the internet who likes your radical posts and stances.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t wait for someone else to solve your problems or the problems of your own community. If a window broke in your home, you would replace it without waiting for someone else to do so. If a family member hurt their leg, you would take them to the hospital, not wait to see if anyone else could pick them up. Your community deserves almost as much respect as your property, and your fellow neighbors should be looked at as if they were an extended family. Only then can society thrive.