Walk Two Moons in Someone Else’s Moccasins

Are you concerned about global poverty, climate change, pollution, peak oil, the rise of consumerism ?

Do you support Fairtrade, human rights, environmental protection and a more equal distribution of wealth and resources ?

The desire to encourage others to engage with these issues is what prompted me to start writing Next Starfish, and if you’re a regular reader the odds are that you share many of the same concerns.

That’s the thing about blogs of course – they largely preach to the converted !

It’s great if anything on this site prompts you to reconsider aspects of your own life, or take action to make a positive difference – but I’m under no illusions – the vast majority of this site’s regular readers are wonderful, caring, empowered people, and would be doing all  these good things anyway !

If we’re really serious about changing things we need to reach a wider audience, and aim to encourage and persuade change. Clearly this isn’t going to be easy – everyone already thinks they are right !

Have you ever had an argument with someone about why they should buy more Fairtrade, reduce their consumerism, recycle more, avoid sweatshop produced clothing, the positive aspects of wind power or why we should continue to give overseas aid ?

How did that argument end up ? Were you able to persuade the other person around to your way of thinking ? I know I’ve rarely been able to.

If we’re to escape what seems to be the increasing polarization of these issues, we need to find ways to develop more constructive conversations and ultimately cultivate areas of common ground with those in society who are not naturally inclined to be sympathetic of the sort of issues I write about on Next Starfish.

It can be incredibly tempting to think these other people are ignorant, or selfish, or fearful, or angry, or distrusting – but of course that’s largely not the case. It’s just that we all have different perspectives about what’s most important to us.

A number of sociologists would suggest that societies across the world can be broadly broken down into thirds :

- A third who are mostly concerned about people or issues proximal to themselves; their families, their town or city, their local neighbourhood or their country. They are concerned about ensuring the safety of these people and things, and seek to keep them secure – whether through strong laws, powerful military, big safe cars or healthy bank balances. They want to ensure the predictable continued operation of society, and place value in its institutions and structures and in everyone abiding by the rules.

- Another third are motivated largely by the approval of others, and demonstrating their own status, success and popularity. They tend to be interested in fashion, popular culture and celebrity lifestyles – and aspire to emulate them by having fashionable and desirable cars, houses, holidays, clothes or partners. They tend to have busy social lives and lots of Facebook friends etc.

- The final third are more motivated by inner mental aspects – being interested in intellectual ideas, ethical and moral issues, philosophy and spirituality. They tend to value issues of principle as being highly important and also tend to more readily engage with abstract or remote concerns, including events, things and people far away with whom they have no direct personal contact or knowledge.

Now of course this is a massive over simplification, but the underlying principle seems reasonable – that our underlying personality is important in determining our interests and opinions.

If we want to influence and affect the views and behaviour of society at large, we are likely to be ineffective if we only argue from our own moral basis.  We should instead attempt to frame things in ways that engage with our intended audience and connects with their values.

For example – rather than trying to convince the first group of the case for solar panels and wind turbines because they will reduce climate change, and make life better for vulnerable people far away, we might do better if we instead highlight the benefits to local jobs, the local economy, local air pollution and energy security.

Similarly – rather than trying to convince the second group of the social and environmental benefits of buying Fairtrade or of eating local, seasonal or organic foodstuffs, we might do better if we try to promote and enhance the social status of more ethical and natural foods, perhaps by focusing more on presentation, celebrity endorsement or promoting social approval.

Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt presents a even more complex picture in the second video below, suggesting we can all be considered to have a combination of five moral traits, which help determine the extent of our liberal (small L) or conservative (small C) views and opinions.

Regardless of how accurate or meaningful you consider these psychological models and insights to ultimately be, we might be well advised to consider the old Native American aphorism:

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins”

Photo by from Lindsey Gee, via Flickr

Comments

  1. A wonderful post – thank you so much for writing it. I’ve often felt like I’m beating my head against a brick wall and am frustrated why people don’t either care about others in the world, or bother to take any actions. Your suggestions of focusing on people’s motivations when trying to influence is brilliant and gives me hope (and a strategy)!

  2. I’m new to your excellent, positive blog but I look forward to dropping by from time to time. I agree with you about blogging, though I’ve found that amongst my regulars there’s always a smattering of hardy explorers looking for background on Anabaptists or following a topical ecological piece. Your site does something precious – which is to nurture hope. In one way and another most of my writing around the ecological crisis (http://radref.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/ecological%20crisis) or peacemaking aims to do the same thing. Sometimes a idea or an opportunity comes along which has the potential to reach out beyond the heartlands of the ecologically converted. At present we’re working on a ‘Walking Church’ and finding, to our delight, that there’s something healing about the rhythm of thing thing. By no means all of those who are responding enthusiastically to the ecological dimensions of what we’re doing are the usual Green suspects. Shalom, Phil

    • Thanks very much Phil – very kind.

      In many ways I’ve come to think of it as a war of ideas being waged on the internet.

      There are numerous sites and blogs supporting various opposing positions; from climate change, to overseas aid, most seem to have their own sympathetic readerships.

      In addition there are ‘raids into enemy territory’ – posting critical comments on blog posts or news items, replying to tweets and Facebook updates etc. As far as I can tell these don’t seem to be very successful in changing anyones mind about anything, and more often than not just invite vitriol and abuse.

      More interesting is the ‘neutral zone’ of the internet – general blogs, websites, fora etc. Either guest posting, commenting, or achieving visibility by some other means to the audience of these ‘unaligned’ sites may well bring people’s attention to an issue for the first time.

      I don’t have an agenda of ‘winning converts’, but I would like to raise the general public’s awareness of complex issues – like consumerism and poverty etc, so they can question deeper and reach their own conclusions.

      I’ll drop in on your blog and take a look :)

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