Changing Perspectives

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I always love this time of year ... the blank calendar, new projects, and opportunity for reflection and fresh starts.   A chance to contemplate the challenges and successes of the past year, and dream about the one ahead.  It’s a time I often feel anything is possible.

This year, my reflections have led me to think about the importance of perspective.  Specifically, the fact that we approach every situation, consciously or unconsciously, with a set of frameworks which guide our emotions and actions.  From getting on the Skytrain each morning, to making decisions, and in all of my personal interactions, my perspective affects my thoughts and behaviour.  So what, you may ask?  Well... some perspectives serve us extremely well.  Others... not so much. 

Our perspectives can be antiquated or negative.  Or even destructive.  And yet, we don’t know what we don’t know.  Which begs the questions I’ve been pondering of late:  If anything truly is possible – how do we change our own outdated perspectives?  And in turn transform societal perspectives to enable positive change in our communities?

Sometimes, a radical critique can successfully prompt us to re-examine a familiar subject.  A good example is this recent article in the NonProfit Quarterly, which spins the typical funder/fundee relationship on its head, beginning with the following announcement -  To all foundation contacts and “funding partners”: Effective immediately, our nonprofit organization has reorganized and will henceforth do business as an Operating Grantee.® It's hilarious.  And oh, so true.

At Vantage Point, we’re often tempted to take a similar approach as we constantly re-examine the familiar subject of volunteerism.  In recent years, we’ve struggled with using the term “volunteer” at all – knowing folks almost always hold an extremely narrow definition of the word.  We’ve experimented with other phrases, in an effort to shift perspectives.  For instance - think for a minute about what image comes to mind when you hear the word “volunteer”.  What do you imagine that person doing?  Now - what about “external talent”?  What comes to mind with that phrase?  Is the image different? And the term “knowledge philanthropist”?  Does that provide a different perspective?   We’d love to know.

And while we're on the subject... what perspectives are you keen to transform this year?

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Megan-Jane Good's picture
Megan-Jane Good (not verified) on
A well written article Lynda! Your comments on the need for a "radical critique" immediately made me think of "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathon swift- a satirical article in which he suggests the famished & poor Irish should sell their babies to the fat & wealthy as a delicacy. He used a ridiculous idea to make a sarcastic point and give the British aristocrats a radical critique of themselves. Sometimes, a radical critique is just what we need!
Lynda's picture
Lynda on

Thanks so much for your kind words, Megan-Jane.  Glad to hear my random thoughts connected - and conjured up Jonathon Swift!   =)

Trina Isakson's picture
Trina Isakson (not verified) on
When I was developing SFU Volunteer Services, we tried to shift the focus from just volunteerism to engaged citizenship. Civic engagement, promoting causes, student club involvement. It was a communications challenge. It was hard to grow our opportunities beyond the most common request of students - event volunteers. Warm bodies. It was a challenge from all sides though - how students envisioned their ability to be involved, how organizations sought to engage young people, and how university admin viewed "volunteerism". The culture changed, but still needs more work. It was easier, perhaps, being an educational institution, to focus on promoting student opportunities that had a connection to academic learning or leadership development. I believe the change happens through every individual interaction we have with passionate citizens. But it's a hard slog, as you well know.
Lynda's picture
Lynda on

So glad to hear you had some success in your culture change endeavours at SFU.  Sometimes it IS hard to know what comes first - the language or the perception?  In any case, eventually we must pick a tactic and try to make something happen if we are to succeed.  Kudos on your work - and the recognition there's still more to do.  I suppose that's what makes life interesting...  =)

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