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Outrage is necessary, is human, is a product of the empathy we feel when we witness injustice. But just how useful is it? Is it not emotionally, and even physically, exhausting? Is is sustainable? Can it produce a meaningful outcome?
As I write this on March 9th 2018, the day after International Women's Day, I am contemplating deeply how best we might utilize this outrage to manifest substantive and enduring impact in the lives of women globally. Benjamin Franklin died almost 200 years ago, yet his words,
Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are not
are no less relevant today. It is indeed outrageous that over two hundred years after his death the world still suffers the ambivalence of the unaffected.
My activation to move from outrage to substantive action was a slow winding road but there was one person, and a distinct piece of work, that got me off the sidelines and into the fray. That person was Anne Firth Murray and the work was her online Stanford Course, International Women's Health and Human Rights. I took that course back in 2015 (it's free by the way!). The accompanying text book to that course, written by Anne, is
That course, that book, interacting with my fellow students online and in video calls as we discussed the many manifestations globally of gender inequality, moved me from unaffected, albeit disturbed and concerned, bystander to engaged, frequently outraged, advocate for change. So how, in a world where attention spans get shorter and shorter, and the easy win is often the only focus, can we hope to engage the unaffected, and move them to outrage as Mr Franklin advised?
It's all very well to preach to the choir, but that only serves as an echo-chamber. The challenge is to reach those we normally wouldn't come into contact with or with whom we wouldn't typically raise this issue because we consider it too contentious.
So, here are my top 5 Ways To Connect With "The Unaffected" and to move from Outrage to Impact.
1. Reframe - Language Matters!
Let's be honest, people typically are interested in their stuff and like to think they're right most of the time. How you communicate with them has to speak to them on a level that feels comfortable for them and draws them in, rather than provoking a defensive response.
Let's face it, it's rare that you'll meet anyone who'll openly identify as an irrational asshole. Everyone pretty much likes to believe that they're a rational, decent human-being. This is the anchor opportunity for any discussion with someone who holds a differing view. You need to reframe your argument so that they feel invited into an open discussion, not set upon. No righteousness and no "How could you possibly believe...?". Think more along the lines of;
You're someone whose opinion I respect and who I know gives deep consideration to important issues, so I'd really welcome your thoughts on....
I find it alarming when I hear statistics like [significant, credibly sourced statistic related to inequality]. I wonder as a society why we haven't been able to do better in this area. What are your thoughts about how we got here or how we can address this more effectively?
And a small, but important, piece of advice regarding the most politically sensitive area - If you're going to speak about abortion, never lead with that issue. People respond with emotion and heat and shut down. Put a pin in that one and instead discuss choices in the frame of contraception, access to comprehensive reproductive health care, sex education etc. Go for the areas with greatest opportunity for common ground. If someone takes you on about your pro-choice position, my advice, to take the heat out of that and to move on, is to say something like this;
I don't believe that anyone who is pro-choice wants to see a situation where abortion rates are rising. Quite the opposite. I think they want to see a society with excellent, science based, sex education for all of our young people, and ease of access to contraception and reproductive healthcare servies. Where women decide to have children, they want to see world-class maternity care followed by excellent post-birth services for new mothers and their precious babies.
2. Be Informed!
You need to know your facts and numbers and have them from the most reputable sources. People respond well to those who present authoritatively on any subject and that's no less true for gender equality.
Most people operate in a situation of information overwhelm and just don't have the time, energy, or will to sift through a mass of information to make a truly informed decision. With the propaganda, masquerading as legitimate news across all media today, it's not surprising that most people simply don't know what they don't know! You need to, gently, be the guide.
As a reminder, these facts and statistics aren't a weapon, where you get to prove the other person wrong. Being right doesn't win - unfortunately. I so wish it did! Everybody likes to think that the opinion they hold, on any important issue, is well-founded. Attack that head-on and you're going to lose, every, single, time. Believe me on this one. I have literally years of experience of getting it very wrong!
3. Refresh Your Environment
Go into rooms with people who aren't like you, who think differently, and just listen. The best way to reach someone is to first truly understand where they are.
We have more in common with each other than that which divides us. It is politically expedient for some to emphasize difference, so as to breed division and fear. This is a political game that we see played out all too frequently. But most people just want the same things in life. They want to be happy. They want to avoid suffering. And they typically want the same for the people they love.
Recognize and embrace the overwhelming degree to which we are similar to each other and listen, and seek to understand, from that place. Nobody wants to be schooled. They do want to be heard.
4. The Power of Trust:-
People who present both sides of an argument are generally seen as more trustworthy, and this is very helpful when trying to move someone to see things differently. Firstly, you need to know the other side's position on this issue. You probably encounter it frequently, but here are some of the ways the anti-equality position manifests itself, just as a refresh;
1. The Denial Argument:
Women already have equality. We have a load of laws that cover this stuff - equal pay, Title IX, Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment [insert your own national laws as appropriate here] ... Inequality is a myth.
Many women make this particular argument and there's a variation of it, which goes something like this;
1.1. The I'm Not Personally Affected Therfore The Problem Can't Exist Argument:
I don't know what all these whining feminists are going on about, I'm a strong, capable woman and I've never been discriminated against. I get paid well. I get treated well. I'm doing just fine. I don't need any extra consideration. I know my worth!
2. The Male Entitlement Argument:
These feminists are asking for too much. They want to take 'our' jobs. They're even in the military now!/ These diversity programs in companies are discriminating against men. There's a war on men not women!
3. The Natural Role/Paternalistic Argument:
Men and women are different and we just fulfill different roles in society. We have different strengths and weaknesses and we just need to reflect these inherent realities.
At times this argument is amplified by an extreme right wing, religiously infused, view which speaks to "God's Will" and the "Sacred Role" of women. Let's leave that one well enough alone for now. I've met the type, and I'm sure you have too. We're typically encountering a very closed mind so I'd suggest not engaging at all. Send them love and light and move on, quickly!
So, allow them to speak. Be a true listener, rather than someone just waiting your turn to deliver your monologue. Acknowledge the contrasting beliefs (equality already exists, for example) and fears (women taking positions in the workplace that should belong to a man, say). You don't have to concede an element of your argument, you just need to show understanding. Let them know they are being truly heard.
So, for example, for the Denial Argument, it might sound something like this:
You're absolutely right. There are many laws on the books today that were enacted to address the historical inequality in society. I mean, the right to vote was won in 1920 and in the 100 years since then we've had the Equal Pay Act, Title IX to guarantee equal access to academic and athletic resources, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Violence Against Women Act and many more legal decisions in this area adding to the case law. You're correct, there's been so much legislative work to achieve gender equality.
What's so disappointing is that it hasn't been effective in actually delivering that equality and we know that's true from the statistics [know your facts!] and from women's experiences. It can happen in any area of law, and unfortunately it's happened here, with gender equality law.
[Interested in learning more? Download our free Top Ten Facts on Gender Inequality]
When you acknowledge the basis of the other person's belief , i.e. we have equality legislation, and acknowledge that as a reasonable basis for the belief he/she holds, you're gaining trust. You're agreeing that a reasonable, well educated, human being could reasonably hold that opinion. From there you have the potential, using proper framing and with the pertinent facts, the sources of which you can cite where necessary, to move to change that belief and position.
You are in effect removing the risk for them of losing face by changing their opinion. You exchange it with the risk of losing face, as the inherently reasonable person we now jointly agree them to be, if they do not at least adjust their opinion when presented with your beautifully framed facts.
Basically you're saying - Sure it was entirely reasonable for you to believe that women had equality before you were made aware of these facts. Now that you do know these facts though, it would be unreasonable for you not to adjust/change your view.
5. Social Proof:-
Give them the gift of going second, if you can. We like to think that we hold the opinions we do because we independently came to them. However, social science stands on a strong body of research which shows that we have a tendency to conform. A strong tendency to conform. The principle of social proof is;
The greater the number of people who find an idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.
So, to apply this to a situation where we are seeking change in an opinion, it is very persuasive if we can show how others have acted in the same circumstances. Now, this isn't straight-forward and I am struggling to think of an exact example here. But let's take this idea out for a walk anyway, shall we?
Let's say we had data on a group of people, who were classed as Denial Argument opinion holders. All these people were then shown a documentary film that depicted the actual state of gender equality in that country. For the US we could use the documentary EqualMeansEqual (although I'd probably want to edit it to maximize its effectiveness for the target audience).
This reality view would clearly be very different from the Denial Argument opinion. Our data would show that this group then amended their initial Denial Argument opinion, acknowledging this new information which is of course presented in an authoritative format with soundly researched facts, and accept that there are, in fact, significant gaps when it comes to gender equality.
It's important to note that the data group probably need to have more in common than just the Denial Argument opinion. The more our individual feels that the data group represent people similar to her/himself, the more inclined they would be to follow the lead of that group. In this case, amend their opinion.
Now, it's not easy to pull this data out of your back pocket, unfortunately. It would be wonderful if we were addressing this issue in our schools so we could at least be sure that the younger generations were getting early exposure to the realities before forming potentially hardened opinions. However, I just wanted to plant the idea in your mind and you may find opportunities in your individual interactions where you will be able to make use of this approach. If you do, please let me know!
So, those are my 5 Ways To Connect With The Unaffected. I hope you will find them useful in your interactions with anyone you have the opportunity of speaking with who currently does not feel gender equality is an issue they need to bother with.
- We are all more alike than unalike
- There is always common ground
- People want to feel heard
- Seek out places with people who are different from you, and just listen
- Know the facts
- Don't school people, but rather seek to be a guide
[ You might also enjoy reading How To Get Out of A Funk - Your 5 Step Guide ]
About The Author
Eimear Zone is an entrepreneur and co-founder of feminist brand and social enterprise, PEBBLE + ROSE. She writes on feminism, entrepreneurship, and mindset management. She can be contacted at email@example.com and IG @emtczone
Eimear's new book, The Little Book of Good Enough - Quiet Your Inner Critic, Ditch The Doubt, Own Your Worth, is available on Amazon from 30 October 2018. You can find out more at eimearzone.com .
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