If we say that something is broken, it makes a big assumption that it was ever in good working order in the first place. That there was a moment in space and time in which it functioned in a way that we believe it needed to.
And when we say that a system is broken, it assumes the legitimacy of the system in the first place. That the people who designed it, implemented it and kept it running had the authority to build such a system-and that it was one that fully served all of the communities that we belong to and witness needing to benefit from that system.
But in reality, our idea of ‘brokenness’ has become an encapsulation of our inability to escape institutions that were never put into place to do good for all.
So, the next time that we feel the need to call out something as broken-the prison system, the electoral college, the healthcare industry or whatever it is that we are re-examining and finding fault in-let’s first look back to see if it is indeed broken or if it is doing exactly what it was designed to do.
The language of ‘broken’ is a mind f*&%
‘Broken’ can make an already big challenge feel utterly impossible. The language we choose sets us up psychologically when we’re working on those big social challenges. And framing any cause in a broken light is a surefire way to turn off new supporters too.
Even in the worst cases, it’s always about balancing the messaging between importance, urgency and possibility. We need hope:
“Research is clear that to overcome fatalism and inspire change we must balance talk of urgency with talk of efficacy — the ability to get a job done. Too little urgency and “why bother?” is the default response. Too much crisis and we become overwhelmed, fatalistic or disbelieving — or a disjointed mixture of all three…”
I love the way that the Quaker American Friends Service Committee outlines an alternate path to discussion, even when dealing with enormous systemic change:
- Appeal to our shared humanity
- Emphasize that change is feasible
- Take smaller, local meaningful action to encourage inclusivity
As a nation we sometimes feel broken. As individuals we sometimes feel broken. After 2020 we totally feel more than a little bit broken.
But knowing the difference between what is broken and needing fixed versus what has simply never been designed to work for ALL us as a society is important. This is how we understand and agree upon the next steps to take. This is also how we hold ourselves accountable for the systems we put into place today.
And even in the midst of a Broken Thing That Has Let Us All Down In Monumental Ways, we must infuse our work with the language of hope and change.
Originally published at https://www.careharder.com on December 28, 2020.