BRIDGING DIVIDES: "You Can't Flip Every Pancake."

May 2024

(Part III) Both the first and second parts of my answer to a webinar participant’s question about responding productively belied my determined optimism. By comparison, this third and final portion may feel like falling in ice water. Consider the original question:

How do you think about responding productively to communication that is so emotionally charged, strident, and binary that it intimidates and shuts down space for good-faith dialogue and honoring of complexity, tradeoffs, and tensions?

Within days of the webinar, a group of communications professionals gathered via Zoom to discuss how to garner wide support for important issues. We talked about the importance of being accurate, while also being inclusive, and about being unapologetic, while also empathetic. As a group that cares deeply about a shared future that benefits everyone, we were tying ourselves in pretzels wanting everyone to share that vision.

Finally, a wise woman in the group invoked a different carbohydrate to get us unstuck:

“You can’t flip every pancake.”

And she’s right. There are times in advocacy when you simply cannot convince someone to listen, much less support your position.

In the first of these three blogs, I noted the intimidation contemplated in this question may be at a level that puts your physical safety at risk. Even assuming you can show up ready to listen, people may still want to fight, not speak. It may be that you are not the right messenger; perhaps the person you are trying to reach would hear the same message if it came from someone else, as frustrating as that is. Or it might be that person isn’t ready to hear the message from anyone.

If that sounds hopeless, I encourage you to focus on the people you can reach. Further, remember that you are not alone in working toward a just, equitable, and peaceful world. Just this week, another group of professionals from across the country gathered with a focus on hope as we grow the world of public interest communications (of which advocacy communications is a subset). In our opening session, we heard the words of Octavia Butler:

“In fact, the very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope.”

As you encourage others to join you in looking ahead and sharing your hope, remember the three skills of an advocacy communicator covered in these three blogs:

  • Awareness.
  • Curiosity.
  • Patience.

I wish I could thank the person who asked this thoughtful question, but they did so anonymously. Friend, I hope my thoughts here and Lance’s in the webinar are helpful. If you have more questions, please get in touch.

- Piper Hendricks, Founder & CEO

(Photo of pancakes topped with a strawberry by Yulia Khlebnikova. Wise quote about pancakes by Susanna Hegner.)  


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