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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 20-Jun-08


Friday 20-June-08

The activist's trap

I've been researching ahead for pages for this site on activism, a general discipline that seeks to change the minds of others. I found much information out there on both reasonable and dodgy websites, ranging from civil rights to scary civil wrongs such as fascism and anarchy. It is curious how such polar opposites can find themselves in agreement at least in their need to be heard and approaches to resolving this. And getting heard is a lot of what it is first about.

Common 'be heard' activist methods include meetings, rallies and marches, in which they can declare their message at high volume. You may not agree with them, but you will hear them. Then they hope to change your mind, where a key method they use is passion. When you see how convinced they are, you must realize that there is something there worth investigating.

There's quite a lot of activist information around students, including scary detail on how to get them involved, some of which is reminiscent of cult methods, in which impressionable and lonely young people are hooked with promises of friendship and good deeds. And where better to look than a college campus at the start of term, where thousands of anxious young hopefuls, fresh from the family nest, are feeling their way in the world.

I did my bit of protesting when I was in college, though my motivations were more social than idealistic. I once travelled hundreds of miles with my girlfriend to London to take part in a mass march about something (I was never sure quite what). In solidarity with our brothers and sisters we marched in our hundreds of thousands, shoulder to shoulder. Until we got to Oxford Street, that is, when we went shopping instead. We caught up with the others later, in time to go to a pub then trek back to University, telling tales of student power and retail therapy.

Modern activists are maybe less cynical and certainly more organized. Take this relatively mild extract from a modern manual, where breaking laws and causing inconvenience to others is accepted as normal behavior:

To put something up, paint the wall with a thick layer of paste and smooth your poster over it. ... If you put the poster up well enough the only way anyone is going to be able to take it down is by buffing it off. If you're worried about being linked to the crime, wear gloves and carry a plastic bag with you. If you see a security guard or a police officer, put all your wheat pasting supplies in the bag. To make it even less suspicious wear some nice light-colored clothing (so that the wheat paste doesn't show up on it) and carry a Gap shopping bag. Play it off.
(from 'Anarchism in Action')

 Particularly towards the further reaches of anarchy, methods are more Machiavellian, assuming that the end justifies the means. Anarchists sadly fall into the same traps as those they seek to depose, including massive assumptive leaps and blind acceptance of strongly worded yet fallacious arguments. Never mind the logic, feel the passion!!

Your comments

Another mode of activism to consider: Being. Yes, influencing others' beliefs by your presence, how you show up, how you physically embody your beliefs and delivering your message from this presence, enlisting the participation from this presence. Then teaching others how to do the same thing. This is the message of the Strozzi Institute whose workshop I recently experienced.

I am still in the process of testing this approach in the real world. My focus is on ethics. The media and the silent majority of CEOs have failed to play an activist role in the declining ethics we see in all our institutions. It is my quest to engage and inspire others to be activist in this pursuit.

-- Stephen B

Dave replies:
Good note, Stephen. 'Being' is much forgotten. There is a relationship here with William Ury's
The Third Side, for example in the position of witness.

I couldn't agree more, Stephen. The more I experience, the more that I believe this is the very best way to persuade. I know that with Children, we can talk till we're blue in the face trying to advise them, based on our own experience, but the truth is, their observation of our behavior is more powerful than any spoken wisdom we could ever offer. My mother never told me about all of the values of reading and learning, but I observed her love of books, and her shelves stacked high, and the varied themes, and lo and behold, I am one of Barnes and Noble's Best customers.

My husband was recently placed in a situation where he had to give CPR to an ailing Scuba Diver. My children were present. As Hard as He tried, He was unable to save the man. My children, however, were witness to an admirable effort, and I am certain, that their presence was no accident. If they are ever in a position, where they need to assist another, I have no doubt they will.

I have a small pillow with the words of Ghandi written on it:
"Be the Change you wish to see in the World."
My Dog often Brings it to me. It's no accident.

And Don't forget Mirroring: When one person in a room Yawns....You know what happens next. Here is A recent Blog Post, if you are interested:

-- Gloria

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