I like to view the world through the lens of optimism.  It’s not always easy, but it helps me find the gift in challenges and failures.  Sometimes it’s hard to use the optimism lens because it’s hard to see our community suffer: higher utility bills, higher grocery bills, smaller budgets.  Not to mention the still-recovering-from-covid stress.  I acknowledge our present reality, take a deep breath, and ask how are we going to get through this as a community.

The answer is collaboration.  No one organization—governmental, educational, non-profit or for-profit business—can succeed in isolation.  But what does collaboration look like?  It’s different in different contexts, but it includes building relationships and having all stakeholders participating and working together.  Successful collaborations also require courage and empathy.

Courage is having the ability to do something that scares you.  Many of us are comfortable with our daily routine, and we are familiar with the people we work with.  It can be challenging to step out of that familiar space and create connections with people whose experiences are different from our own.  Building collaborations that have a measurable impact requires courage over comfort.

Empathy is another prerequisite for collaborations.  According to Brene Brown, clinical social worker and professor, empathy is a key factor in building connections between people.  Many of us think that empathy is connecting with an experience of another person, which is nearly impossible for people with different experiences.  According to Brown, “empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.”  This is an important distinction.  Someone may not know what it is like to lose someone close, but they have undoubtedly experienced loss of some sort; understanding and acknowledging that pain is empathy.  A key empathy skill is to see the world as someone else might see it, and to “honor people’s perspectives as truth even when they’re different from ours.”  The present-day political polarization underscores the challenge of practicing courage and empathy, but it is essential if we are going to help our community.

What does this look like here at home?  100% Socorro is an excellent example of county-wide collaborations to ensure that 100 percent of folks in our county have the services needed to survive and thrive.  Identifying gaps in services and existing resources, then systematically closing the gaps is a team effort.  The Socorro Consolidated School District is leading the Community Schools facet with resources from an NMPED grant.  SCOPE (the Socorro County Health Council) has a history of coordinating healthcare, behavioral healthcare, and food and transportation resources.  New Mexico Tech has included 100% Socorro in its Strategic Plan, which demonstrates a commitment to collaboration—even when we don’t know what the answers are.

How can the public engage in this collaboration?  Either by joining these efforts directly (e.g. as members of the 100% Socorro action teams), or by sharing concerns with the organizations who are engaged and responsible for the outcomes.   Regardless of whether you are the one sharing or the one listening to concerns, it is essential to practice courage and empathy to build the foundation for the collaboration required to overcome our challenges.

Sharon Sessions, Guest Columnist