Is Pemberton ready to be Ground Zero for the Hello Pledge?
Pemberton’s Maureen Douglas is a bit of a world-changer. A community relations and communications pro, who took on the high profile, high blood pressure role of Director of Communications and Community Relations at VANOC, she’s firmly committed to grassroots engagement and straight-talk over spin. Her latest project, The Hello Pledge, was inspired by research from the Vancouver Foundation that found that Metro Van is a hard place to make friends, full of polite but weak connections, where people only know the names of 2 of their neighbours, and that as affordability issues increase pressure on people, there’s a risk of people becoming meaner towards each other
Mo likes people. (That’s what makes her a world-changer, like all the female leaders, established and emerging, out there, who’s genuine affection for human beings motivates them to try and “untangle” the world’s problems. But I digress.)
After Mo announced the Hello Pledge, Michelle Leroux, editor of Whistler is Awesome, tested it out in Whistler and got a lot of weird looks. I doubted that Pemberton even needs such an effort. It’s a small town after all. So I shot some questions to Mo, to get her straight-talking insights on whether we’re immune to such things here in the Potato Nation, and where we go after hello.
Who needs the hello pledge more? City dwellers or country folk?
Why the Hello Pledge?
It’s a simple act that once adopted by many can have a huge impact on a neighbourhood, a community, a city. And asking people to make a conscious commitment/action (i.e. taking a pledge) creates a stronger commitment to action in their minds.
What spawned this idea?
The recent Vancouver Foundation study/report on connectedness and engagement was a big influence. Statistics and research are telling us that we don’t feel very connected to our neighbours or communities these days. There’s no better or easier way to increase connectedness that with a simple hello.
Does the Hello Pledge belong in the same family as Random Acts of Kindness, or Pay It Forward movement?
Maybe, but the Hello Pledge is an even easier commitment. It costs NOTHING. It takes only a tiny bit of time, energy, kindness and courage to offer a hello to a stranger.
How much of a role do you think social media and internet addiction is playing in declining community engagement? Online forums like facebook have become these default civic centres and gathering places. Malcolm Gladwell accused those social channels of emphasising shallow connections over deep ones. You’ve chosen to use your social network and channels to promote this concept… do you have any thoughts on the power of social media to either strengthen or weaken a sense of community and belonging?
I also appreciate the irony is this – creating greater real-life social connection through the medium that is making our relationships more “virtual”… But my hope is that the Hello Pledge will resonate with folks using social media and help them realize that we need to exercise our in-person social “muscle” more than we are currently doing. Social media and real-life social connection do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Are you an eye-contacter? On public transport, sidewalks or in grocery stores? How does a person not come across as a stalker? How does a person not end up entangled with a weirdo?
I am an eye-contacter, but I find that the recipient usually waits to the last possible moment to flash eye contact with me – perhaps in the hope that I won’t engage. It’s disheartening to me that many of us are afraid to say hello out of concern that someone will think we’re a stalker – but it’s not an uncommon concern. Not being misinterpreted is easy – as you catch the eye of someone you are passing by, say “hello” or “hi” and KEEP ON WALKING. It’s a passing greeting – an acknowledgement of the other person. For every 100 hellos I say, I experience maybe 1 slightly strange person. Most of us are just detached and out of practice with hello.
Why do you think people don’t extend that common greeting or acknowledgement anymore?
I think it’s partly driven by a generation that’s been raised on exagerated “stranger danger”: Never talk to a stranger, avoid strangers on the street, danger lurks everywhere, if someone says hi they must be crazy… It’s all contributed to people saying hello less. And when you hear it less, then you tend to do it less as well.
What kind of traction are you seeing with the Hello Pledge?
Limitless – let’s go global!
Where would you like to see this go?
I’d like to see this travel the world. We’ve already got pledgers from the U.K., the Bahamas, Australia and the U.S, as well as from across Canada. Maybe this initiative will go global and we’ll have hello pledges in other languages as well.
Do you think it has enough to it to really gain momentum? I mean, isn’t hello only the first step? Don’t we need to have a follow up ready? I guess the question actually is: What’s next, after hello?
This isn’t about starting a conversation on the first hello – it’s about bringing the initial hello back into common use. That said, if you pass the same person by daily and say hello each day, by the end of a week or two, you might actually introduce yourself and have a conversation that leads to forming a friendship.
When did you get your start in community activism?
I’ve been an organizer and initiator since high school. I’m one of those folks that realize if I want to see change happen, then I need to DO something to MAKE it happen.
After you completed your gig as the Director of Operations Communications for the 2010 Olympics, you had the opportunity to step up to a much more political, international, global roles, and yet chose to dig in more deeply on community engagement projects. Why do you think grassroots counts more than global?
I think that global is just grassroots that really took hold. Almost every action with momentum starts out as a grassroots initiative and The Hello Pledge resonates for everyone, everywhere. We need to remember and return to some very simple community-building skills in order to keep our growing communities healthy and engaged. Our technological age makes it easier to isolate one’s self, but that can lead to a host of social and physical health issues.
Do you feel that Pemberton has “hello” issues?
Yes. Many of us say it, especially since so many of us know each other, but I find that newcomers (and a few long-term residents) could benefit from some “hello training”. And if it’s not returned often enough, even the folks who usually say it start to wane in their commitment to saying hello.
I’m super fascinated right now with the concept of community resilience – the things that make a community the kind of place that can survive or adapt to climate change, peak oil, natural disasters, human tragedy, economic disruption etc. And one of the things that is identified as critical is connections… neighbours knowing neighbours etc. Is your Hello Pledge just a lighthearted idea for you? Or do you feel a sense or urgency attached to it?
While this is an easy, cost-free act, it does have some urgency to it. We need to re-engage with community now, not once we barely even glance at each other. We are all here together in our shared communities, and even our approach to democracy demands that we make our society work TOGETHER and culturally our connections usually start with hello. This is a call to reignite a basic social connection.
Why should people sign on to the Hello Pledge?
To make an actual written commitment to be part of a change. If you sign onto it, it will be more present for you in your mind, you’ll talk about it with friends, and together, through a growing network of outreach we can achieve a powerful and positive social shift. Oh – and it’s fun to say Hello and witness the reaction it brings. www.thehellopledge.com.
Check out Mo’s Gallery of Hellos from the “howdy neighbour” to the “reluctant lunchbreak hello” and help build the Hello-Pemberton-style gallery, which starts with with the “namaste, i’m a stand up paddleboard yogi hello”, and the “hey cyclist, isn’t it amazing to have the road to ourselves?” Slow Food Cycle head-nod hello…