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25th Anniversary Reflection: Self-Interest Means “Self-Among-Others”

By Karen Ginoza, past Faith Action president

I retired in 2008 after spending 40 years in education (as teacher, union leader, and advocate of equity issues at local and national levels). Throughout the years, I attended trainings with excellent trainers. However, when I retired and became active in FACE, I learned a new skill and tool from Gamaliel Foundation who trained us on “self-interest” and how it is a vital tool for organizing.

In discovering one’s self-interest, one must first understand yourself and what shaped you to be what you are. It means exploring your family, educational and firsthand experiences. Discovering your self-interest is revealing and can be frightening as one confronts the demons and failures in your life. However, discovering your own self-interest also means articulating a vision for the future.

According to Merriam-Webster, self-interest is a concern for one’s own advantage and well-being. However, for grassroots organizing via Gamaliel Foundation, self-interest means “self-among-others.” It is never self-serving or selfish. Acting in one’s own self-interest requires courage, a sense of worth and vision. It includes “the Other” as being important to attaining the vision.

One-on-one conversations with others are the best way to discover self-interests of others. This is a crucial step in organizing. When we discover what our self-interests are, we can find the motivation and complementary talents to use together toward common goals.

As a FACE leader, I had to recognize my self-interest as well as the self-interests of others. We had to show courage and vision to take on the challenges that faced us. An example of how difficult identifying self-interests happened early in my work with Faith Action. A volunteer and I attended a week-long National Training. It was important for us to identify our self-interests since we would be working together on a project. The volunteer struggled to identify her self-interest and I could not help her. I finally asked a trainer to help her articulate her self-interest. Once we identified our individual and common self-interests, we were successful in completing our project.

Self-interest (self-among-others)--how it’s discovered and how it’s used in community organizing are why I became active in Faith Action for Community Equity.

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