07 September, 2013

Neighborhood Watch Success Comes Gradually Then Suddenly

In an earlier post I said that people are waiting for your Neighborhood Watch effort to fail. Many of them have seen it all before. Chances are that your Neighborhood has some signs that say "This neighborhood protected by neighborhood watch" or some such wording. A friend of mine calls those signs "scarecrows". I call them monuments to the failure of some failed neighborhood watch effort from a previous decade. In most cases those signs are false advertising.

But here is the corollary to my previous statement that people are waiting for you to fail: Nothing succeeds like success. Some of the people who ignored your fliers and didn't attend your meetings will come around when their neighbors get involved and you have proven that, this time, the Neighborhood Watch effort is going to succeed. When their neighbors tell them they are receiving emails or texts from Neighborhood Watch that inform them about what's going on in the neighborhood, they'll decide they want to get in on it. Most people are not early adopters of anything "new". They wait and see. The trick is not to give up just when you're about to succeed. 

And when some unknown number of people join up and start talking to their neighbors and coming to meetings, your Neighborhood Watch effort will reach critical mass and become a self-perpetuating force in the neighborhood.  

Tragically, some of the best Neighborhood Watch organizers get discouraged and quit just when they are about to succeed. When Ernest Hemingway was asked how he went bankrupt he said "Gradually then suddenly." Neighborhood Watch success is like that. At first, it's hard to see progress but suddenly someone steps up to help you canvass the neighborhood and capture the precious and vital names and contact information you need to communicate with the people who ignored your fliers. Suddenly you see new faces at a Neighborhood Watch meeting. Suddenly something happens in the neighborhood that shakes people from their lethargy and apathy. Maybe a shooting or a crime wave or an abduction or a rape will rattle the neighborhood. Fear and anger are powerful motivators. 

Historians disagree on this, but it's been said that Cortes burned his ships in the harbor as a sign to his crew and to the occupants of The New World that failure was not an option. There was no turning back to Europe. Whether this story is true or not, it's the attitude Neighborhood Watch organizers have to adopt. No turning back. Keep knocking on doors. Keep holding meetings even if they are poorly attended at first. Your success will come gradually then suddenly.

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