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Monday, February 17, 2014

The Power of People

  I have to be honest. For some reason, I always feel like I have to write some hard core political piece, or else no one will want to read what I have to say. But consciously I know that is not true. So this week, I have a personal experience. I am told that everyone likes a personal story.
  Last week, I took part in a focus group. It was the first one I had ever been a part of and did not quite know what to expect. Since I signed a non-disclosure agreement, I am not at liberty to talk about what was discussed. But that is not the story.
  I went into this thinking that it might be something interesting to write about. It did not disappoint. I decided I would be an observer of people. An observer of people who walk into a room of strangers, sit down, and begin to interact with each other.
  I entered a room with just one person there before me. We were invited to have a sandwich and a beverage before things got started. So I did. And as I did, I watched the room begin to fill up. I noticed that women tended to sit together. I noticed that African-Americans tended to sit together. Eventually though, everyone put away their phones and began to mingle.
  We were then ushered into the room where the actual focus group work would be done. People were sat in a specific fashion. I began to realize what a science this really is. The room was filled with a very even and balanced cross section of regular ordinary folks. Men and women, young and old, black and white, and surely every economic level. It had to be an almost picture perfect cross section of Americans.
  Now, granted, when you put a group of people in a room and present to them a hot button topic like race, religion or politics, tensions run high and people will get passionate and vocal in their views. We were given the subject of technology. A pretty harmless and tame topic, but something we all use in some capacity every day. Technology can be a truly amazing thing. Performing surgery on unborn babies, or people who have been blind or deaf since birth seeing a reflection of themselves in a mirror for the very first time, or hearing the voices of their children that they never have before is a miraculous feat, and those kind of stories
 never leave a dry eye in the place when they are heard.
  The flip side of that can be summed up in just one scenario. How many times have we called a customer service number, all we want is a little help to get whatever it is working again, and the person on the other end? Well, let's just say that English is not their first language, and we really don't know what language they happen to be speaking to us at that particular moment. We get frustrated and hang up.
  It might sound funny, but I witnessed something pretty interesting during that harmless discussion about technology. I saw people readily agree with each other, and when they did not agree with each other, they explained why. They supported each other's ideas and concepts. They got along.
  We see so much of us versus them. This group versus that group, that when the element of discord is taken out of the equation it seems foreign to us. It seems kind of sad that just maybe, that really is human nature at work, and that the division is the artificial.
  As the session drew to a close, everybody was obviously tired and ready to head home, myself included. But as they left the room, it was almost as if people had made new friends in that short amount of time. They laughed and talked, and I even heard some talk about what was ahead for them the following day. No one called anyone else a racist; no one said Republicans or Democrats suck. They just were.
  It was a great experience, one I would definitely be open to do again. I am sure the focus group people got some great data that they will be able to use, and ya' know, so did I.    

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