Monday, October 29, 2012

A Vicious Dog and a 357 Magnum: A Tale of Mutual Respect

Mutual respect between staff and volunteers, between staff and chapters: it is a goal for which we constantly strive. At times it can be challenging, frustrating and bewildering. Sometimes there are conflicts and hostile situations. But in all probability, you have never faced a situation involving a vicious dog and a loaded gun (and not just any gun, a 357 Magnum!). Let me tell my tale...

The Vicious Dog

A number of years ago I worked as community organizer in a low-income neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa. As you might imagine, I encountered a range of emotions during my efforts from welcoming to hostile. One day, however, I knocked on the door of a young woman - her name was Bonnie. I explained my purpose (to help the neighbors organize a community action group). She told me she wasn't interested and asked me to leave.

A few days later, I returned hoping she might change her mind. She answered the door and shook her head. "C'mon in," she said, "I want to show you something." Once inside, she led me to the kitchen and opened the door leading down to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs was an extremely large German shepherd who, after taking one look at me, snarled and charged. Bonnie shut the door just in time to save me from the vicious canine. "My dog and I don't want you around here." 

The Gun

I nodded meekly and made to leave. "Wait!" she said, picking up an oversized purse that was on her kitchen table. From it, she retrieved an unnecessarily large gun. "It's a 357," she declared ominously. "I don't ever want to see you on my street again." I gulped rather loudly and began tiptoeing away. "And yes, it's loaded," she explained.


Mutual Respect!

What I did next might have turned out to the stupidest thing I have ever done (as well as the last). I happened to notice a drawing above the kitchen table in the style of a political cartoon. It portrayed the mayor of Des Moines being kicked in the butt by a woman who looked like Bonnie (the very same Bonnie who was, at that moment, threatening me with a gun). "Is that you in the drawing?" I asked.

"Yes!"  Suddenly her expression changed; she seemed pleased.

"It's quite a good drawing," I observed, "Who's the artist?"

"I drew it," she said proudly.

It turned out Bonnie had a softer side, a side with considerable talent: she was an artist. We began talking and I asked if she had any other cartoons or drawings she might show me. She fetched a folder and for the next half hour, we sat at her kitchen table discussing her drawings, many of which were quite wonderful. I then confessed that I had wanted to be a comic book artist, but lacked the talent. At that point, she patted me on the arm and said encouragingly, "Babe, you can do it; you just gotta practice your drawings."

Can you imagine, in a space of thirty minutes we went from a possible homicide to a shared interest in drawing cartoons and comics? As I got up to leave, Bonnie said, "It's okay for you to come around the neighborhood. Feel free to drop by anytime." We had achieved mutual respect!

This was, granted, an extreme case, but it illustrates that the challenge of building mutual respect between staff and volunteers may not be as daunting as it sometimes seems.

The Bottom-Line: I am committed to helping associations build productive partnerships between their staff, volunteers and chapters. How can I help your association?

In addition, check out:  How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

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