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To Be Rather Than To Seem

by | Jul 15, 2022 | ShiftHappens

My home state of North Carolina’s motto is “esse quam videri,” which translates from the Latin as “to be rather than to seem.” 

This was on my mind recently in a team conversation about how The Pollination Project, as a global community of changemakers, should respond to emerging events in the news cycle that seem to occur with alarming frequency. When affronts to peace and justice occur, what is our reaction or responsibility? 

In the past, we’ve done what many organizations and companies do – we put out a statement condemning or affirming whatever aspect feels aligned. These kinds of statements pervade social media in the wake of a news event, yet I can’t help but wonder what good they do or who they serve. In the worst cases, they feel performative and self-interested. In the best cases, they encourage a binary echo chamber that amplifies already entrenched ways of thinking. Particularly in the case of complex and nuanced issues, I am convinced that real change rarely happens without vulnerable interpersonal dialogue with someone we know in life. 

There is an element of self-centrality to this business of statement-making, too. Yet for The Pollination Project, our core staff team is the least important constituency in our community. Our voice and vision belong to our global grantee community, who hail from nearly 120 countries; it is reasonable to assume that there is a plurality of viewpoints and cultural experiences within this rich tapestry, and that not all of them see the world through the lens of Western media and culture. 

As the conversation about this issue unfolded within our team, a consensus emerged: when the news cycle beckons, we will dispense with the idea of statement-making or other performative strategies. We will instead uplift the stories and projects of grantees working in topical capacities. This does not mean we do not care deeply about the issues of the day; just that we, as a team, want to cede the spotlight in these moments and instead highlight the practical dreamers who are solutionaries. That is, those who are focused on “being” rather than “seeming.” 

I know there are some within our community that might not agree with this approach. To them, I extend a heartfelt offer to talk about it more together. 

After all, there is tremendous beauty in conversation across differences. 

Written by Carolyn Ashworth