Making A Difference

If you are trying to bring about change be prepared to meet resistance. Even if you make your point eloquently and with impeccable logic, it may not be accepted. Nor should you be surprised when that happens. Making a point is not the same as making a difference.

If you expect other people to come round to your way of thinking, you must first understand their viewpoint. If, instead, you dismiss it, you will find yourselves on opposite sides of the fence, with little chance of mutual agreement. Your first step should be to apply some practical empathy, recognising that the other person may not know what you know, believe what you believe, or want what you want. Try also to see yourself as they see you, so that you may understand the hill you have to climb to gain acceptance. What story about you do they hold in their mind? What are your assumptions about them?

Winning people over to your side is not about demonstrating that you are cleverer or that you have the answers. Although your argument might gain acceptance on an intellectual level, there are always hearts to be won as well as minds. Don’t just make your point and leave it at that. Do the hard work. Take your time. Tell your story but listen to the other person’s first. If you can find common ground, you may effect the change you’re after. If you just keep bashing them over the head with your point, you will end up driving them into a hole.

In my experience of being involved with Extinction Rebellion (XR), I have faced the practical reality of this many times. XR has a reputation for making disruptive protests in order to get government to act to protect our future but, in that respect, it is no different from many other movements that agitate for social change. It follows a long tradition of making waves in order to shake up the establishment, from the early Trades Unionists who agitated for the right to unionise, to the Suffragettes who demanded for the right of women to vote, to the women of Greenham Common, who fought for the removal of US nuclear missiles from Britain and the anti-frackers, whose concern for environmental preservation made them unpopular with the fossil fuel industry. All of these movements had to make a nuisance of themselves in order to make changes that eventually became accepted by the majority as right and just. And all of them faced hostile and frustrated opposition.

In the thick of an XR demonstration, trying to get the aims of the movement across to angry and frustrated drivers who are stuck in traffic jams is not easy, no matter how reasonable the cause. The key to success is to avoid head-on confrontations of opposing views. I have learned to approach irate drivers – or whoever else is raising vocal objections – with an apology for inconveniencing them and an expression of sympathy for their situation. This face-to-face contact is often effective at calming tensions and laying the ground for extended conversation about how they might weigh the short-term inconvenience against the long-term benefits. It doesn’t always work immediately, but if even a few of them go home and later consider the future for themselves and their families, then we will have made a difference.