Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lessons in Advocacy from Across the Sea

I just returned from a fantastic trip to Japan, and while I’m not a huge fan of my current jet lagged state, it was definitely worth it.  This was my first visit (hopefully not the last) to the Land of the Rising Sun – a very appropriate name by the way – and during my time there I noticed some very interesting cultural differences. The one that stood out to me the most was the tendency to do what is best for the group rather than for the individual (and it goes without saying that I’m generalizing a bit). It was a collection of small observations I made throughout my stay that led me to this conclusion. For example, if a group of three friends are riding on the subway but only two seats are available, all three will remain standing – even if there is no one else vying for those seats. If you go out to dinner with someone and there is sake at the table, you are not supposed to refill your own glass – instead you pour drinks for one another.  It can take you an hour to find an outdoor garbage receptacle in Tokyo, but you won’t find one piece of litter on the ground.

I was very impressed by this community-centric mentality, and it got me thinking about how these principles can and should be applied in the world of advocacy. While you do have power as an individual advocate, it’s those grassroots campaigns that consider the needs of the entire community they represent with their issue that are truly successful. As an organization or association representing a particular issue area, you should look for other groups with like-minded interests and work together to propel each other forward. As an individual advocate, if you are planning to meet with a Member of Congress it may be tempting to arrange a one-on-one meeting so you can spend as much time as possible telling your personal story to your Congressman. But think about how much more effective the meeting might be if you have two or three constituents with the same message but different stories and perspectives.

At the very least you can stand if there aren’t enough seats for everyone in the meeting. 

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