By Sue Lichtenfels, PCB President
We announced at our February 27 open house call the theme for this year’s PCB Conference and Convention: “Peers Challenging Beliefs.” I’m excited to have this as our theme this year because it truly captures the work of PCB. I’ll expound more on that in my address to the convention as we open the conference weekend. I also love the theme because challenging beliefs is in my DNA. I lead by challenging beliefs across many contexts because neither individuals nor organizations can grow and succeed if no one is asking “What if…?” With this in mind, each of my articles this year will focus on challenging beliefs. Let’s start with our role within the council.
Have you ever considered that the word member begins with me? Traditionally, people become members to get something for the proverbial “me.” It’s a quid pro quo, I give you money for membership and my membership gives me certain entitlements. Maybe it’s use of the fitness equipment, steep travel discounts, prestige, special service upgrades, access to events, etc. I join and I get something in return for me. Once the “member” hands over the payment, he or she need only sit back and enjoy the benefits of membership.
Becoming a member of PCB is not such a clear-cut transaction for a few reasons. First, PCB is a peer-driven, volunteer organization. Contrary to popular belief, its success does not depend on how many people “sign up,” but rather how many people are engaged in doing the work of the organization. In this peer-focused organization, the point is not on the immediate benefits to me, but on the long-term benefits for we, the community of people who are blind. When I commit myself to the good of the whole, I benefit too. The issue is further complicated because the Council sends the opposite message by continuing to charge a fee as proof of commitment to the cause. (This will be explored in my next article.) That annual “membership” fee can trigger a Pavlovian response, “I give you money, you give me something in return for the next year while I sit here and do nothing.”
I believe we can begin to change the message and the perception about being involved with the council if all of us more heartily adopt the concept of PCB as a peer network. Our purpose is to be peers with vision loss working together to promote independence and opportunity for all people with vision impairment; not members sitting stagnantly by waiting to enjoy the rewards of another’s work. Let’s get beyond that member “me” mentality by faithfully calling ourselves peers instead of members. Peers and people both start with “p”. Peers are representative of and work for all people with vision loss. Peers come to the organization with common experiences, work together to achieve shared goals, and mutually benefit from their successes.
Personally, I find being a peer much more rewarding than being a member. I didn’t recognize this until a few years ago, when a young professional woman who had been a member for about a year asked me why I am a member of the council. Specifically, she wanted to know what I get out of it? At the time I was truly taken aback by her question. I had never thought about my membership in terms of what I get out of it. I joined the council not to get something out of it, but rather to give something to it—my support, my service, my ideas, my voice, etc. While I have certainly reaped the benefits of membership such as learning about new blindness products, meeting new people, building my skillset, and connecting with mentors; my purpose for being involved with the council has always been mission-driven. I came to the council knowing there was work to be done both among and for others who are blind and visually impaired, and I jumped in where help was needed. Nearly fifteen years later, it’s amazing to look back and reflect on the impact my volunteer work has made.
I guess I’ve always looked at my involvement in the council much as JFK asked us to look at our citizenship in his 1961 inaugural speech. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” It’s never been about me. It’s always been about us.