Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Translation Series: How to Reach Us

One of the requirements for graduation from my undergraduate alma mater was taking a cross cultural trip. My trip to Jamaica for three weeks was not meant as a vacation but as an educational experience to broaden my perspective and help me understand others' reality and world. The leadership knew we could not effectively learn about another culture unless we inserted ourselves into it, experienced it for ourselves, learned their mindset, and adjusted ourselves to their culture vs expecting them to adjust to ours. They did not ask us to become Jamaicans. They expected we would hold on to our own identity as Americans. But in this experience we would learn how others lived, learn how to reach others outside our norm and appreciate what we had at home, among many other things. 

I mention the above to make this point: the Baby Boomers and Greatest Generation communities in America will benefit from seeing the “young adults” as its own culture. If one is going to make their most out of a culture and reach it so to accomplish whatever purpose, one must be strategic about their approach. To walk into China and attempt to solicit their attention for your life changing leadership idea by speaking English, is not going to work too well. And in the same way, do not assume that you will reach the young adult generation using your generational lingo and cultural innuendos. The idea that the "English" culture can effectively reach the "China" culture has gone on too long. You cannot count on those you want to reach coming to you. You have to figure out how to reach their ears, minds and hearts then go to them. 

It is imperative that we as adults change our mindset on approach if we are going to save our country. 

You will be more effective in your engagement of the younger generation by

1. Communicating in Soundbites. Do not try forwarding long emails, printing off articles, or buying us books. Instead, post a link to an article on our Facebook page; share a youtube video, no longer than 30 seconds, with us that conveys a point you’d like to make; ask us questions that are thought provoking instead of giving us long speeches.

2. Embracing that to us Images are Stronger than Words. We’ve grown up in a visual culture and that is the best initial point of communication entry into our minds. Images of a child you want us to help; short educational videos; or cartoon illustrations on how the economic process works will go much farther than all the eloquent presentations you have planned, or tried thus far.

3. Accepting how Our Minds Operate. Our attention is short. We are used to working on computers, easily flipping between several screens, juggling many responsibilities, rolling many balls down the road at once. We text a friend, listen to a conversation, and watch the news all at the same time and can actually summarize what we’ve just heard. So tell us quick.
4. Not Imitating Us. Show us you care about our world, you're interested to know what we think, feel and observe. But do not dress like us, aim to be only our friend, and try to act like our equal, because you're not.  You are a parent, or significant role model and we need you. We need someone who will hold us accountable, challenge us and give us something to aspire towards. Come into our world, but continue to hold your position for who God has made you to be to us.

5. Remember the Power of Touch. Just because the norm is to teach a student from a book, does not mean we all learn that way. Some people learn the most when they can experience something, touch it, grasp it, when it is real to them. If you have a point you want to make to your young adults, get creative and help us "touch" it on our own.

I.e. you want your kids to understand how big the government is getting, that money is disappearing from your check via taxes, when your child asks for money to go to the movies tell them: "I wish I could! Your movie money has already been spent." Then show them the check stub and how the increased taxes have influenced their life.

Or you want them to appreciate America? Arrange a casual date for coffee, perhaps over a fun project, and build a relationship with friends who have served in the military. Find a way to involve your young adult in this relationship and ask the veterans to share their story of what they did as a member of the military (or a military family) and then ask them why they did it. The story of these real soldiers will touch their own emotions and might go far in starting to awaken their awareness that this is a country worth fighting for.

... There are more points to make. But this is enough for now.

But, one of my most important points: stop looking to others to reach your members of the young adult generation. I can speak to 50 young adults, reach them in 20 minutes, they will most likely walk out and forget 99% of what I’ve said. But your genuine interest in them, your ongoing integrity and consistency in your own beliefs, and your willingness to learn from them will go farther and last longer. You know them, you love them, you live alongside them on a regular basis. YOU are the best conduit for influence to the young adults around you. 

My generation does not need more speeches, parties or rallys. We need parent and grandparent figures who will care enough to reach us and then figure out how to convey the absolute truths and values to our generational culture. Help us. We're silently waiting on you to move. Without you, we're not sure where we're headed, who we are, or what we're moving towards. Find a way to tell us the truth. And remember  this cross cultural experience begins with you (yes you) right now...