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Monday, March 27, 2017

Of Sanctuaries and positions of safety

This is the third post to come out of my experiences at the Acumen global gathering in Naivasha earlier this month, and there's no saying if it will be the last. You cannot spend five days with some of the most powerful changemakers in the world and not come out of it shaken and stirred (the first posts two are here and here)

There is one conversation that I am going back to again and again in the week since the gathering, because it was powerful and moving, but even more because it is so relevant to choices I make every day in the Indian political climate. This was Stephanie Speirs' talk on "Sanctuaries". Stephanie is the co-founder of Solstice, an enterprise dedicated to radically expanding the number of American households that can take advantage of solar power. She is also an Echoing Green Climate Fellow, a Global Good Fund Fellow, a Kia Revisionary, and an Acumen Global Fellow, all of which recognize emerging leaders in social enterprise. 

Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/117328/marriage.aspx
It says a lot about this woman that, given the opportunity to address to 300+ global citizens, she choose to talk not about her amazing journey in the space of solar energy access, but to talk about courage, about the importance of speaking up when staying quiet seems like the most sensible option, about listening patiently to ideas that clash violently with your values. Because that's how the world changes. In her talk, Steph said something that made me sit up and scribble "must look this up!" in my notes. She said that American acceptance for same-sex marriages has gone from 30% to 60% in the last 10 years. How did this happen? Polls indicate that the #1 reason for this rapid change of opinion is the very simple - "I know someone who is gay".

And this is why it is important to keep talking, to keep reaching out to people outside of our "sanctuaries" (we also call these our "bubbles"). My original tendency - every time I read a friend's hateful post on social media, every time I listen to a cab-driver express contempt for a community he doesn't like - is to mentally check out of that conversation (I wrote a post to defend my desire to live a non-confrontational life in 2015). Because we know that people never change their minds, so why waste your breath? But here is this amazing data that Gallup collected over 20 years that shows that people do indeed change their mind - only 27% North Americans said "yes" to giving legal status to same-sex marriages in 1996, and this number went to 61% in 2016. Would this have happened if gay people stayed in their bubbles and sanctuaries and refused to engage in difficult conversations?

So here's to celebrating the loud SJW in me and all the friends who spend hours arguing and defending their point of view in the face of unrelenting anger and sarcasm. The next time I meet that neighbor who shared with me that she never employs anyone from a certain community ("sometimes they change their surnames so you have to be very careful!"), and left me depressed me for a week, I'll not smile politely and run home. I'll get out my sanctuary and ask her if we can talk about this a bit. 

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