I recently spoke at the “Seneca Falls Revisited - Women’s Equality Weekend”. I was honored and excited to return to the place where the first step onto the journey for equal rights for women had started. It was humbling to go to the chapel where a group of brave women had first met as an organized group, just a few days after a thought-provoking tea. It would be 72 years later after gut wrenching work before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 giving us the right to vote - less than 100 years ago, just 10 years before my mother was born. The wheels of justice grind slowly.
I arrived at the conference with a particular topic to talk about - to motivate women and encourage them to be Solutionaries and the answer to the discord around us. But, as I sat there taking in the information around me, listening to accomplished speakers, I felt compelled to discuss something else that was on my mind, so I zigged and then I zagged.
When I adopted the word “Solutionaries”, there was no such word in the dictionary. I tried polling my friends, but they just kept scratching their heads and asking me if it was someone that had solutions. No help …. So, I dug deep and created my own definition:
[suh-loo-shuh – ner -ee]
1. Disruptive innovator who creates transformational impact
2. Critical thinker who treats the root cause, not the symptoms
3. Leader supporting a culture of innovation
4. Visionary who challenges conventional wisdom for a better way
As I sat at the conference listening to passionate speeches and learning the history of the women before us who had worked tirelessly to make sure that women had the right to vote, I understood that they were in every way disruptive innovators creating transformational impact and visionaries challenging conventional wisdom for a better way.
But, equally important, they were critical thinkers who treated the root cause, not the symptoms. At that time, women were not allowed to own property, all of it was transferred to their husbands, including anything they inherited or monies they made. They had very little voice and very few rights, they lost everything in case of divorce, including their children. The women at the Seneca Falls convention, the first convention for women, understood that with the power of the vote came the ability to change the laws and the ability to address the root problems.
So often, we slap bandages on problems and label them fixed, without addressing the origin of the issue. I recall years ago on a trip to Tanzania, a group of volunteers were anxious to bring clean water to the women in the villages. They had purchased all kinds of filtering devices and were prepared to change the lives of the women by offering a more sanitary alternative. The women told them that they would love to have clean water … if they had any water. In fact, they spent hours each day walking with jugs on their heads to find water at wells, dealing with back and other physical issues. A year later, the group returned with transportation solutions to address the most primary issue but, if they had just asked some basic questions in the beginning, they would have saved time.
We can’t be Solutionaries without asking questions. To assume we know the answer and will just fix it without truly hearing what the problem is can be dangerous business. Is it possible that we think of ourselves as so forward thinking and “conscious” that we are actually unconscious? The things that may seem apparent to each of us may not be apparent at all to others. If you are continually surprised by their actions, is it because you didn’t ask questions - questions without judgement or an effort to change their opinions? Questions to simply understand. With knowledge there is power.
Everyone has a story based on a lifetime of past experiences that create filters and their response to certain situations. At the conference, I found myself encouraging the legislators to actually ask questions of their constituents and not just rely on statistics provided by interns. To take a moment to find out what was really important to each person they interacted with - not to convince voters about their skills or their platforms. I suggested to the teen Girl Scouts that they ask students outside of their immediate circles what was meaningful to them and why.
Isn’t it time to bridge the gap with true understanding so that we can reach common ground? As Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” My hope for you today, and every day, is that you will ask another person what social issue bothers them the most and why – and then simply listen and try to understand.
All rights reserved – Linda Lattimore