It’s wonderful to desire positive change in your community. It’s admirable to want to see neighbors flourish. However, too many current strategies emphasize a limited view of the people we wish to “serve.”
In order to join with neighbors in removing barriers to a healthy, thriving life, holistic engagement must come into play. It’s not enough to have good intentions. It’s about deep, meaningful relationships with people – our neighbors. Internalizing this priority of relationships means that we must avoid the tendency to treat interactions with people like projects to be checked off a list. We must balance intention with impact. It’s essential to assess our resources and motivations. Then, we must align our vision and values. Finally, we can activate.
Holistic engagement is a framework that creates the right foundation for meaningful change.
What is Holistic Engagement?
Holistic engagement is the practice of entering into relationships with consideration for the health and wellness of an individual’s entire being.
Holistic engagement believes that each interaction contributes to a broader relationship dynamic. If an individual comes to an organization for a box of food, that interaction can set the stage for a relationship dynamic that becomes transactional. The only reason for the interaction is for the transfer of assets from the person who has resources to the one who does not. It is not one that forms a deeper connection between individuals who both have agency, stories, and strengths.
To make more room for a more equitable interaction, holistic engagement starts by reshaping how we think about neighbors in general. It operates out of the belief that a relationship takes time and authentic interaction, ideally one where power dynamics are equalized or inverted. It proposes that organizations know their neighbors deeply and fully. It’s not about handing out resources – it’s about authentically valuing human beings. It’s essential to create an integrated system of care.
Holistic engagement starts with the belief that we all possess valuable character traits and skills. Truly understanding this fact often starts with you and your team. Begin by discussing the unique skills and traits that your team has to offer. Everyone you engage with holistically deserves your very best, which means your team must deploy its best, too.
Once you use this lens to view others, you can offer authentic acceptance. Holistic engagement is about offering affirmation – you’re valuable and seen for who you are…not in spite of it. When we are able to accept the rough edges of ourselves and others, we can offer belonging and move forward without getting derailed every time someone acts… human.
Why is Holistic Engagement Beneficial?
Holistic engagement fosters a relationship based on trust. People feel valued. Holistic engagement values what’s true about each individual. It recognizes that everyone has gifts, talents, and skills – as well as challenges. It acknowledges that resources, opportunities, education, and luck may divide us – but no one can do life alone.
Holistic engagement recognizes each person’s hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy of needs theory says that people first need things like food, water, and shelter. When this level is met, they look for safety, belonging, esteem, and finally, self-actualization. Needs influence each other, and offering help in one area won’t necessarily encourage overall flourishing. Neighbors will benefit from community organizations that understand this. Once people determine that an organization is trustworthy, it creates a chain reaction.
In addition, a holistic engagement approach encourages practitioners by making the long, slow work of collaborating with neighbors more relationally rich and emotionally replenishing. Meaningful interactions can help them stay motivated and fulfilled. Rich relationships keep people from feeling lonely and isolated in the midst of difficult work. Partners can shoulder the tough moments and amplify the joyous ones. Moments of growth and trust are important for everyone.
How Might Stakeholders Implement the Practice of Holistic Engagement?
In many cases, holistic engagement starts by taking time to slow down and get to know people authentically. Ask questions. Share experiences.
Often, changing the environment can impact connection. Move outside of the organizational building by taking a walk or visiting someone in their home. Pay attention to nonverbal cues that signal that someone is uncomfortable in the current environment, and make a change.
Foster a culture of mutuality and vulnerability. Be willing to share on an appropriate level. Find common threads by using the gift of discernment. Listen, notice, and determine where you can find common ground. Assume a posture of humility.
Find ways to enter the neighborhood and engage people. Determine the gifts, skills, talents, and abilities they may have, and extend opportunities to utilize their expertise for appropriate compensation. View neighbors for what they have to offer, not just what barriers they face.
What Results Might Holistic Engagement Produce?
Healthy organizations, operated by healthy leaders, will bring about healthy change. The best practices of Holistic Engagement are designed for engaging and empowering each individual holistically with measurable, longer-term impacts.
As the training and consulting arm of the place-based community development organization, Focused Community Strategies, the Lupton Center exists to help nonprofits learn tools and strategies to create lasting impacts through their work – while also dignifying neighbors. Connect with us to learn more, and find out how we can partner with you!