“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”Dr Seuss, The Lorax
There was a post on social media about a historic spike in temperature at the earth’s poles in March 2022. The recorded temperatures were 30 C and 40 C higher than average.
The few comments on the post ranged from shock and horror to how individuals are powerless to do anything about it. [To read the Guardian article click here]. Around the same time, the ‘Oscar slap’ light-up responses from all corners of the globe.
For activists, it can seem that people just don’t give a shit about Climate change and social and environmental injustice issues. For the general public, talk of the end of the world as we know it can be too heavy, depressing, and… irrelevant.
I’m interested in ways of supporting activists in their work — preventing them from giving up hope, falling into despair, and reaching burnout. [To read a previous article ‘What kind of changemaker are you?’ click here]
Why don’t people give a shit?
There is a multitude of reasons people don’t “give a shit” including:
- being numbed out by catastrophising — often this kind of information can focus on the worst-case scenarios as a way of shocking people into action. But it tends to send us into inaction instead.
- being uncomfortable: these topics evoke discomfort and, well we are designed to avoid discomfort — so we do.
- feeling judged by suggestions and actions – so instead of listening we defend our identity e.g. their lifestyle choices — cars, clothes, flights, holidays etc
- feeling swamped with bad news in general — let’s face it there’s an awful lot of it about!
- feeling confused about what to do with ALL the information — there really is a lot of different information out there and it’s confusing to know where to start.
- feeling despondent — we don’t trust current political systems and believe we have no power to make any difference.
- feeling disconnected from the issues and believing we won’t affect them.
What motivates change?
I would like you to take a moment to consider the following:
If you wanted to motivate someone you loved, to change, what would you do?
You might highlight health benefits, the feel-good factor, or possible financial benefits… they might respond positively. Or you might try convincing them, arguing with them, shocking them, or even coercing them … you might end up in an argument.
It is said that there are three psychological ingredients necessary for motivation — Autonomy (self-directing freedom), Relatedness (connection to the issue), and Competence — possession of required skill, knowledge, or capacity.
So by building better relationships, meeting people where they are, ensuring they always have a choice, and finding our common dreams we are more likely to at least have better conversations.
Below are 6 ways to motivate change (inspired by my time living and learning in eco-villages)
1 Share positive and inspiring stories
When you feel that we are rapidly running out of time to turn things around it can be hard to focus on the positive, but it’s a way to balance out the problems, give context and offer possible solutions.
Seek out and share positive and inspiring stories about the people making change happen, focusing on opportunities, solutions, and true regenerative projects. [To read my article on ‘7 lessons I learned from 20 eco-villages’ click here]
2 Use your pain
It can be easy to give up hope and believe that people don’t give a shit. Instead of either throwing your hands in the air or fighting, arguing, and defending, use your creative energy to generate something new.
If you feel you can’t motivate anyone then focus on motivating yourself and lifting yourself up. Channel your anger and pain into something that really represents your passion for the earth and for future generations. This could be tending a plot of land, teaching your kids about the abundance of life and food in nature, or trying out Zero waste living.
Living by example is a powerful and inspiring act of support!
3 Take a different view
When change is being discussed people can get caught in ruts about what is the perfect thing to do. In this situation, it can be useful to suggest radically different ways of looking at things.
- it could be about bringing more heart into the conversation — talking about what is precious and loved.
- It could be to move from focused to diffuse thinking – in other words moving between the focus on specific issues to looking at the bigger picture.
- Or a more philosophical view e.g. the Buddhist doctrine of the two truths: that two different mental constructs are used to understand the world. The relative or conventional truth of a thing is its dependence on conditions and the absolute or ultimate truth of a thing is its emptiness.
Whatever way you try to approach it — moving between very different perspectives can untangle snags in our communication and lead to greater connection.
4 Renewing faith and trust
In conversations with people who have lost hope, and faith in our systems you can remind them of their autonomy and where they still have the power to choose. Show examples of where others have taken action, and maybe encourage them to take small steps toward bigger changes. [To read a previous piece I wrote about Hope click here.]
5 Choosing the right action
When overwhelmed with options and choices. Remind people that how they take action doesn’t have to look a particular way and it can be something that they love and already have knowledge of. Suggest choosing a level that is doable for them whether that is — becoming politically active, getting involved in groups that support their community, or making simple incremental changes in their home like growing a few vegetables or leaving the lawn to grow wild to support the bees.
5 Move the dial from me to we
The sense is often that change is a zero-sum game — that there are only two sides and only one can win and one will lose. It can feel like a battle of ‘them versus us’. This is exacerbated by the virtual online world. I think the only place to really engage in this in a positive way is to work in the present, with one another.
This can be challenging and tedious and we have all witnessed groups come together with great intentions but divide down the middle in that ‘them versus us’ archetypal split.
It took me years to really trust that it is possible to have really great outcomes from working together. It is not possible in every group and with every personality type but I have experienced the development of group wisdom and outcomes that no individual could have come up with alone. The key is to listen, keep coming back to common ground, remain compassionate, and… practice.
6 Practice Aikido
Something that can arise in conversations is a knocking down of all suggested ideas. The emotion behind this behaviour is often fear of change and I have seen this dealt with, with empowering outcomes in intentional communities. [To read about my experience in Svanholm Eco-village in Denmark click here]
- Slow down and take a longer view of the subject and conversation.
- Listen, if you can, to what is being said — this might make no difference other than the fact that you heard them and were respectful.
- Like in non-violent martial arts — focus on improvement through cooperation and not through competition — there is no argument to win.
- And if the situation becomes aggressive take a break or walk away- sometimes people’s responses are due to trauma or mental health issues and this is something that needs to be dealt with by appropriate professionals.
- Learn to ask powerful and inviting questions [To read an article I wrote on ‘The art of asking powerful questions‘ click here]
So there you go, there are a few ways to create spaces, conversations, and scenarios where people might engage more openly on challenging topics.
There is no winning or losing in having these conversations — it might feel like you have to convince people to give a shit but maybe … we are being called to meet others in our shared humanity.
In one way we are we are battling to ‘save the planet’ from the evil of consumption and corporate greed but from another perspective, we are on a journey to remember that we’re all in this together. And maybe we can just do our best and know that others are doing the same.
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”Gandalf
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