The old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” refers to the common belief that things must be better elsewhere. While sometimes that is true, in reality the belief that somewhere else is preferable can result in dissatisfaction with what one has and can dissuade initiatives to improve one’s own situation. I see this mentality played out in many ways, but one that has bothered me a lot in recent years is the way that community and campus groups—both of which I am integrally involved—seem to always believe that the “experts” from outside are an improvement on the ones they have among their ranks.
Campuses and community organizations often pay these so-called experts exorbitant fees to impart their words of wit. Honoraria of up to $10,000 is not uncommon at universities who bring in renowned speakers to discuss important topics. Likewise, community groups who are often struggling to fund their daily work, have been known to cough up significant sums to speakers or trainers. Typically, these sessions are one-time only, and, as amazing as some of these presenters are, data is clear that one-off presentations are unlikely to be impactful beyond the very short term. Bullying and sexual violence seem to be the two topics in which campuses and community organizations insist on relying on a grass is greener mentality.
Further, bringing in a national speaker to talk about a local problem often fails to inspire attendees to see how they can take action in their communities. It suggests that there is actually nothing going on locally so organizers had to look outside of the region to find an appropriate presenter. This is hardly the message we want to send to students, social service providers, and other community organizations.
Oftentimes campus groups or community organizations hire outsiders in order to draw down a budget or grant funds, out of fear they will lose them in future if excesses remain at the end of the year. One has to wonder, however, how else those funds could have been devoted should organizers instead have employed a community “expert” who would likely present for free or a very minimal fee? Instead of hiring a sexual assault speaker at several thousand dollars, a university could utilize one of the many faculty members on every campus that has expertise in these areas. I know I have long offered my services at my campus and in my community, only to learn sometimes that an outsider was hired already. Those funds that would have been saved by using me, for free, could instead provide scholarships to survivors or seed money to student groups to engage in prevention campaigns with their peers, for example.
Similarly, instead of hiring a bullying “expert,” a non-profit organization could look at what exists in their community already and couple with that group to engage in a collaborative initiative that would reach more people, be more sustainable, less duplicative, and inevitably more impactful. For instance, where I live in South Florida, The Humanity Project has been offering high quality, free, arts-based bullying prevention programs in schools and the community for ten years. For more information about this wonderful group, see http://thehumanityproject.com/
Sometimes, there’s absolutely no need to search for greener grass, especially when your own backyard is lush and plentiful.