This post came about as convergence of a number of conversations offline and online. A build-up of the horror of images and news reports nationally here in Australia and afar. One friend posted this article, another spoke of her fears of another World War. My mother put it more chillingly, more likely a gradual descent into primitive anarchy.
And a number of my friends are asking “But what can we do?”
It is feeling hopeless. And I would posit that is because for too long hope has been the main strategy. And when hope is your only strategy, results can be slow to see. A sole reliance on hope leads to a kind of social atrophy — a sense that there is so much to be done, that the individual is rooted in place in the face of the enormity of it all. And here we are.
I’m pleased people are starting to ask what can we do, because DOING is what is required, I don’t think things are hopeless. Not if there is action.
So putting the change manager’s hat on, let’s use some common tools of trade to see if we can come up with some real and tangible actions we can all do. I say “we” as this post has been co-written with friends and community of change makers, change managers and communication practitioners. If you have additional ideas leave them in the comments – and I’ll edit them in post publishing.
A word of boundaries – this post is about what you can *do* to make a difference to the current state of affairs. Things that are offered outside of that boundary may not be included or deleted if offensive.
It’s hard to make changes if you are not clear on what the problem is. And this is by far the most challenging aspect of people’s fear and concern right now. There are multiple problems. But I think we can abstract the various acts of terror (police murdering black men in cars, the torture of children in the NT, the torture of asylum seekers in detention, denying LGBTI community equal rights, violence against women, mass shootings galore in the US, the rise of racist and extreme bigotry in elected officials, the imminent election of an authoritarian despot to a super power, the ISIL attacks in France, Brussels, Libya, Syria, Egypt the list goes on). They can all be considered acts of terror.
I would argue that these acts of terror are enabled by fragmentation of society. The more we marginalise people (shun them, make them feel less than others, deny opportunities that others have) the more we push them into a desperate state and they become prey for extremist co-option.
You may see the problem definition as different – and that’s totally fine, that’s your blog post to write. This is the frame of reference for this one. Feel free to use the same template.
Consequence of problem – the neuroscience perspective.
People are scared. Fact. Not an over-reaction. What happens when people are scared? Their amygdala goes into hyperdrive (more popularly known as an amygdala hijack, a term coined by Daniel Goleman ). This is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions. And in very clumsy terms it is believed what happens when the amgydala is fully aroused is it cuts the neural pathways to logic and reasoning. It is difficult to think rationally in response.
When you can’t process things rationally, the brain resorts to old primal pathways of threat recognition – will this person eat me or are they one of my tribes? And we make instant assessments of people in this way based on occupation, skin colour, race, postcode, dress code. This primal pathway privileges marginalisation.
Remember the pause button? Between stimulus and response there is always a gap to pause. Sometimes that gap is so small that we barely notice it. If we ignore it completely then we form a habit of always responding that way. The brain loves habits. Tick – one more thing I don’t need to process! So what does this mean? It means that every time a situation/image that makes you fearful is presented to you you make that stimulus- response connection and it gets faster and faster. Quick to anger? Quick to fear? Quick to have any emotional response? Ask yourself why.
It’s in that pause we can change.
It’s not easy. It requires a lot of concentration and brain processing but if you want to make a difference maybe start here? Let me give you an example. You want your lawn to grow. You also want to catch your bus and you are running late. This often happens. It’s much faster to walk across the lawn than stay on the footpath. You now have a line across your lawn where you always walk. But when you are late for work and you need to rush to get the bus it’s not the executive part of your brain that you are using. The more you take the short cut the easier it is, the way is smooth, and well worn.
So ask yourself. Am I taking the easy way out? The familiar? The choice that will give me consequences I know I can already live with? Or am I ready to change? Am I ready to take the longer less convenient path?
And so this marginalisation combined with our neural shortcuts, enables the progression to perpetrator of terror, and the output of fear. Which responds with “are you going to eat me or not” and more marginalisation. So it’s a pretty vicious negative feedback cycle.
The circuit breaker.
The circuit breaker as I see it is community. Connection. Overriding “the will you eat me” response and identifying shared points of understanding and experience. Compassion. Empathy. Humanity.
But not just thinking it or saying it. Doing it. Acting with kindness, building bonds of community. Reaching out and connecting. Action words. If I see one more clicktivist hashtag #loveisall #sendforgivenessviral I will go spare. Get off your butts and do something tangible and concrete to break the circuit today.
So let’s use a common change and communication framework to see if we can break down the change curve to tactical action statements that people can do immediately.
The Change Curve applied
The Change Curve is an 8 stage process developed by Daryl Conner and is often simplified to 4 stages – Awareness, Understanding, Experimentation and Commitment. If we focus on what we can DO to build community and connection within each of these stages we start to see the emergence of a pretty powerful change plan.
Use discretion over news sources – if they are paying shock jocks or the uninformed to pass commentary they may not be reliable.
Deploy the 10 second rule – will sharing this piece of information amplify fear? Cause distress?
- what are your political positions, what do you believe in, what are your trade-offs?
- what is your reason for posting something to your social media platform of choice? Are you hoping to change opinions without critique? Are you doing so to poke the bear? Is your posting designed to reinforce your own views by virtue of affirmation from likeminded people?
- if a comment online has generated a visceral and emotion laden response from you back away. This person may be a troll of the vindictive nature, or simply some-one who know a different world. Either way responding to them does not benefit anyone.
To understand a situation or position does not mean you have to agree with it or support it. But it is very difficult to build connection without understanding.
Meet with people different to you to understand their world, their pressures, their fears, their worlds.
Read widely and with diversity.
When you are moved to shake your head in disbelief, that is your cue to find out more.
Write personal letters to politicians to let them know your position on things. There is a hierarchy of influence in contacting politicians. Form emails and online petitions are less likely to make an impact than writing a hand-written letter or making a phone call. That said, there is still some argument that online petitions can be effective albeit a slower way to change things.
Go and meet your local politicians when they do community consultation.
Volunteer your time with not-for-profit who are seeking to address inequality.
Strike up a conversation with a neighbour you haven’t met.
Say hello to a stranger on a tram, at a café, at your gym.
Do one act of random kindness every day.
Make donations to not-for-profit who address inequality and the forming of connection and community.
Commit to a role with a not-for-profit profit group or a political party.
Start a community group that promotes social cohesion.
Initiate dialogue groups on topics that concern you – invite people over to discuss and work through what the next steps might be.
Commit to pausing. Commit to taking the longer path
Where to next?
You need to make a decision. Are you going to take accountability for being part of the change you think is desperately needed. And do something that reflects that accountability. I’d love to build up more resources in this post that help people with what to DO … your accountability might just be to make another suggestion or offer a resource that we can include in this post.
For the Australians.
List of charities and not-for-profit that promote social inclusion