How Direct Service Changed My Mind
The other day, I was listening to an NPR podcast entitled “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind,” which was about a campaign in California that was trying to change voters’ minds about Proposition 8, a proposition to make same-sex marriage illegal. The campaign sent organizers into communities to engage in conversations in an effort to encourage voters to think critically about the issue. Part of what the campaign found was that there was a much higher likelihood of voters changing their minds if the organizer who was speaking with them identified as gay. In other words, simple exposure to a face of the issue, or to someone who would be directly affected by the proposition, successfully changed their minds. Okay, so full disclosure, I later found out that the data in this study was falsified. But still, it got me thinking.
I started considering the Members I see every day at LIFT. Unfortunately, many people living in poverty are often stereotyped and blamed for their situations; people falsely believe that they are not trying to make their lives better, they are happily depending on public benefits, or they are using government money to support drug and alcohol abuse. I must admit, I was not always completely “stereotype-free” myself. My experience passing a homeless person on the street five years ago is a stranger to my experience now. Five years ago, I would have seen a homeless person and not understood how they got there. Now, I understand that there are a million different reasons why someone might be in that situation, and I understand that nobody deserves to be in that situation.
Through my work with dedicated LIFT Members, I now know that it takes more than hard work for people living in poverty to reach their goals. Working one-on-one with LIFT Members, I have the privilege of hearing their story; I learn about all of the events that triggered the situations they face. As I work side-by-side with Members to set and achieve goals, we are confronted the by complexity of the social service system and the unfair barriers that stand between Members and their goals. In seeing this, I have recognized that it is not just about hard work, but about having the social support and personal foundations to overcome tragic events and complicated obstacles.
Much like in the NPR story, my opinions have shifted because I have had the privilege of being exposed to the stories of LIFT’s Members. It is through my direct service that understanding and empathy have erased stereotypes. Now, I am left wondering how can I help others to see the individual and hear the stories of homeless and impoverished populations in order to allow understanding and empathy to combat stereotypes for them like it did for me.
When I found out that the data from the study in the NPR podcast was falsified, I was dumbfounded. Here I had scientific proof that backed up my experience and the experiences of my colleagues. But then I read what one of the co-authors of the study told NPR, “just because the data don’t exist to demonstrate the effectiveness of this method of changing minds, doesn’t mean the hypothesis is false…now the real work begins.” He is right. His co-author’s fraudulent data does not prove that it is impossible to change people’s minds on issues; it simply means that we need to get out there and collect our own data. So I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and meet someone who could challenge your assumptions. You may just leave with a whole different point of view and some telling data. But of course, be sure to check your sources.
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