Real Interaction the Key to Successful Engagement

Real Interaction the Key to Successful Engagement

When I attended junior high, the coach would allow anyone to engage in an organized boxing match. Turns out it was a good way for boys with a grudge against one another to “settle it” under the watchful eye of the coach, often with both combatants completely exhausted and giving up the fight (and their grudges) before anyone got hurt. One day I found myself engaged in one of these contests. I held no grudges but nevertheless out of the clear blue some young man insisted on fighting me. To put pressure on me he got all his friends to join in, calling for the fight. So reluctantly I agreed to engage him in a boxing match. Boxing gloves were fitted, and all the boys gathered around to watch the gladiators engage one another. Two things became immediately evident. First, the other guy had been taking lessons and was a much more skilled boxer than me. Second, the other guy couldn’t hurt me: his best punches didn’t hurt me nearly as much as mine hurt him—I could impose my will on him. It was a war of attrition which I won by default; I could simply take his punches and ultimately, he couldn’t take mine. I was certainly “engaged” in this contest, but it was by default rather than by choice and consequently wasn’t that productive for me (or the other guy as it turned out).

ENGAGE Collectively is the second of five thematic goals which make up the strategic FPU Strategic Map. But what exactly does it mean to “engage,” or to be “engaged”? What does “engagement” look like? We say FPU is committed to “engaging the cultures and serving the cities” throughout the Central Valley and beyond, but what does that mean exactly? Is all engagement desirable? How will we know when we have achieved our goal to engage collectively?

We use the words “engage” and “engagement” to describe so many different sorts of relationships and activities. Some examples include: Engagement…as in a commitment to prepare for marriage—“I am pleased to announce the engagement of my friend Bob to Sally”; engagement as in a function or event—“I am sorry, I will not be able to accept your invitation as I have a prior engagement”; engage as in two armies doing battle—“The two opposing armies engaged one another in fierce battle”;  engage as in a conversation—“We engaged in very interesting and meaningful conversation” or “they were engaged in a very heated argument”; and engage as in a business relationship—“I engaged her as my attorney.”

These examples have the common element of including at least two parties interacting with one another in some way. The interaction may or may not be willful on the part of both parties. Perhaps a workable definition of engagement might be “Two or more distinct parties relating to one another in meaningful ways in order to achieve their respective goals or ends.” With this in mind, at least two truths become evident regarding the concept of engagement.

First, engagement does not happen in isolation, but requires two or more parties interacting with one another in a meaningful way. One-way communication is not engagement, nor are activities or actions on the part of one party toward another that do not require interaction. I am not engaged in helping the poor when I send a check to an agency working with the poor. I must have some sort of interaction with the poor for there to be engagement.

Second, meaningful and constructive engagement requires willing parties committed to engagement; destructive or damaging engagement does not. For example, two parties might be engaged in a lawsuit, one by choice and the other by default. Or two armies might be engaged in battle; one by choice and the other to defend itself because it was attacked. If we expect to engage others in the community in constructive ways, we must do so together with them in voluntary mutual engagement.

The Fresno Pacific Idea says “…the university seeks to engage members of its community in a collaborative search for knowledge and experience which lead toward a perceptive and creative relationship with God, humanity and the natural world. On this foundation, the university seeks to build and to extend the Kingdom of God by enabling persons to serve the church and society.”

I wonder how much of our “engagement” with individuals, the community or culture is one-way communication which is ineffective at best or damaging at worst? I wonder how effective we really are at engaging with others. Engagement is a two-way proposition, as defined in the Idea: “…the university seeks to engage members of its community in a collaborative search for knowledge and experience which leads toward a perceptive and creative relationship with God, humanity and the natural world.”

On the advancement team we have goals to engage our alumni, donors, the church community and the business and professional communities throughout the Valley in the coming years. Engagement requires hard work, intentionality and commitment. My hope is that our engagement is a truly collaborative process where we listen more that we speak, we serve more than we are served and we give more than we get. Only then will we truly “engage the cultures and serve the cities,” leading toward a “perceptive and creative relationship with God, humanity and the natural world.”


Donald Griffith

Vice President of Advancement & Executive Director of the Fresno Pacific University Foundation