We have a phrase at Washington Community Action Network that we use to get fired up before heading into a neighborhood to rally support: “go find your people.”
“My people” are the people who give. They are the generous ones who help me make quota every day, and support the work of our tiny nonprofit as it seeks to make our community a better place. They exist in every neighborhood in every corner of this huge city, and they are awesome people to talk to.
I knock on about 100 doors and really connect with about 20 different people a day. Over the course of one month I set foot on expansive, beautifully landscaped properties as well as worn-out, unkept homes. I’ve pet dogs and cats of all kinds. I’ve been greeted by kids of all ages, and I’ve spoken through many iron security gates.
And occasionally some people even invite me inside.
I’m visiting these homes to fundraise. Most turn me down when I deliver my “rap”.
“The only way to beat the insurance lobby is to organize. That’s why we’re asking folks to ‘sign down, and back it up’ with a check or charge contribution for our side of the fight. Strength in numbers. We need your help. Stand with us!”
One of my most powerful connections was with an older woman who greeted me as she hunched over a walker and immediately showed me in. The home was in poor condition. Sparse furniture was balanced by small piles of boxes, papers, trinkets, and discarded items strewn throughout the house.
I followed her to a small kitchen and sat at a thin, padded, round table that you might see in a 50’s diner. We chatted for ten minutes about our goal of making health care universally available to everyone in the state. She had questions, and I had found one of my people.
A blanket separated the kitchen and hallway, and another blocked the entrance another room. I wondered if she was doing the same thing my grandparents had done years ago when a snow storm knocked the power out for days. They hung blankets in the doorways to their living room to conserve heat.
Some people care about things I take for granted, and that makes me feel like I could do more to help others.
There’s something about the experience of meeting a stranger while at their own home: it’s highly personal. Within seconds, I know so much. I can judge their relative wealth based on the size of house, the view, or the cars in the street. I can see what they care about, whether it be art, cleanliness, or security. I can see if they are alone, raising kids or caring for pets. Within the first seconds of our interaction, I can pick up their political leanings, general education level and their key personality traits. And most fascinating of all, I get to witness their openness and generosity.
According to the Five-Factor Model, a widely accepted theory of personality, we have five dimensions that form in us a unique personality combination. One of these is called Openness. Highly open people are creative, curious, and tend to feel that they can make a difference in the world. They enjoy connecting with other people, and often open their doors to me with smiles. They remind me of cats, curious, attentive, and with a little introduction, happy to get personal.
My first donation on my first official day was from a woman who was most certainly high on the Openness scale. She was middle income, with a good sized house, manicured yard and home office. She had handmade art pieces decorating all areas of her yard and home. She dressed in new, colorful, layered clothing, and there were no bars on her windows. After we spoke about the promise of universal health care, she offered a donation. She wrote a generous check, thanking me for my hard work on the initiative.
She gave me money, and thanked me. That’s amazing generosity.
I’ve seen a great variety in humanity this past month. Variety in the kinds of homes I walk up to, and the kinds of greetings I receive there. Variety in neighborhoods and the personality traits people people who answer my knocks. Variety in the people who are suffering, and those with the means to help.
I’ve noticed that most consistently, generosity comes from Openness. It’s the folks who really know what it’s like, either through experience or empathy; it’s really hard out there for a lot of people. It’s not about how much you have to give. It’s not about how hard life has been for you. It’s about how much you can care for others.
Sometimes I can see Openness being reigned in. Once I chatted with a young woman through an iron security gate while she cooked dinner, signs of a complicated meal surrounding her. She smiled and chatted about being a college student and shared a little about her life. Yet when I asked for her to sign, she politely refused.
“I just don’t feel comfortable opening the door right now.” All I could say to that was “No problem. That’s fine.”
I thought about her as I walked through her neighborhood. There were many doors covered by security gates. I stopped at a special memorial with fresh flowers. A neighbor told me it was for a police officer that was shot in the head while sitting in his car six years ago. I wondered if I had grown up on that street, how I would feel about opening the door to a stranger.
Regardless of the neighborhood, most people don’t want to talk. They seem too busy, sometimes indignant, and (I assume) pretty low on the Openness scale. Sometimes it is an “I’m too busy right now” followed by the door closing. Once it was “The sign says no solicitors. Don’t ever do that again.” But usually, it’s “no thank you”, “I’m not interested” or simply a shake of the head through the window.
Many will politely listen to my “rap”, a combination of “the problem” (folks going in debt because their sick while insurance companies make record profits), “the solution” (a single payer system that cuts out corporate profits) and “the bridge” (in order to beat the insurance lobby, we need support). It’s a well-crafted, time-tested method for soliciting donations from strangers at the doors. Many will listen, but only a few will give. Only a few are “my people.”
That woman with the blankets hung in her kitchen was one of my people. After a nice conversation, she dug into her purse and gave me three quarters. “It’s all I can give. At least I’ve got Medicaid. Most folks don’t have that.”
It’s my love people that makes me want to make this world a better place. I love going out to find “my people” because they are like me. They want to make the world a little better, and are willing to take risks to make it happen. They live all styles of life, in all kinds of neighborhoods, yet we have one important thing in common: Openness.
I have high hopes for humanity, because no matter where I go, I can always find my people.