Clyde, King of Community Engagement

If Community Engagement is like gardening in the front yard, I can think of no one more engaging than Clyde.

Clyde is the work of my neighbor, Larry. I don’t know how long Clyde has been around, but we were introduced when we moved into the house directly across from Larry’s in 1996. For 12 years now, the holiday season is not official until Clyde is up.

I am happy to state the obvious: Clyde is goofier than goofy. He is misshapen, and he looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man meets the Marlboro Man meets Andre the Giant. That is part of Clyde’s charm – he is so “out there!”

But here’s the bigger part of Clyde’s charm – his sign. Every year, parents bring their kids by to hug Clyde. Couples walking by on their nightly walk – they stop and hug Clyde, too. Folks stop to talk to Larry when he is out in the yard, because face it – how can you ignore a guy with a 20 foot goofy snow-cowboy in his front yard?

Simply put, Clyde is engaging. He engages by not being afraid to be different. He engages by having a goofy smile, by being friendly to his air-filled core. And he engages by asking for nothing but a hug.

As we all seem to be figuring out how to adjust in this spiraling economic climate, and as fear grips us so easily in these times, we could all take a lesson from Clyde. There is a lot we can all learn about asking for a hug.

I don’t mean asking for money – we all seem to be doing that with an air of desperation this holiday season. I mean more than that. I mean asking for friendship. Real give and take, real respect, real love and devotion – you know – friendship!

When we ask for people’s ideas, their wisdom, their experience – the money will follow, as will a bevy of other good stuff that comes from true engagement. And I don’t mean wisdom and ideas about where to find money. I mean asking for their wisdom and ideas about your mission, your programs.

“Who have you noticed needs the most help right now? Given our mission, how can we link arms with others to provide that help? What does our community need that we can help to provide – maybe by working with others to do so? Do you have any ideas how we can be of more service?”

From there, see if there are other organizations who need a hug – and give it to them. Ask those other organizations who are in the same boat as you what THEY need the most. See how you can help them.

When times are tough, the reaction we share with the rest of the animal world is to retreat, to think first and foremost of our own survival. Through our humanity, though, we can see past the animal instinct to aim for the strength that comes when we are all working together. That is where power lies.  It is where sustainability rests.  It is also where you will find joy in the sea of despair that is threatening to eat community organizations alive this year.

So open your arms like Clyde. Embrace those other organizations who you previously considered your “competition.” Ask how you can help them. “We have so little now, but we know you also have little. Is there anything we can do to make the burden less for you?” You will be surprised how that will help you at the same time.

Between my sunflowers and Larry’s snowman, we have quite an interesting street. But one thing we have in abundance is that folks go out of their way to walk by our houses, to engage us in conversation. And when life has been hard, our neighbors have been there in amazing ways, asking how they can help.

We could all use a bit of that right now. So take a lesson from Clyde and embrace your community without expecting anything in return. You may just find, as Larry and Clyde find every day, that your community will step up and hug you right back.

For help in crafting the kinds of engaging questions that build solid friendships, this may help.

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