Posted on August 21, 2012 by Colin

Preaching to Other Choirs

Have beliefs? Want to be a change-maker? Feel that you have answers?

Want to be heard?

Then go be remarkable in ways that those you want to influence will respect.

Notice that I didn’t just say, “Go be remarkable.” That’s not enough. I could be the best oil painter in the world and that wouldn’t give me the clout necessary to influence how programming languages are developed. An Olympic gold-medal-winning figure skater’s opinions have little impact on how commodities are traded.

Take a look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. Regardless of what you might think about the motivations behind the protests, those involved took a fundamentally flawed approach in trying to impress change upon a wealthy super-class by showing just how un-showered and socialistic they could be. They were impressing each other, sure, and many other people who share similar values — in terms of rabble-rousing and bringing some issues to light, it was a great success — but did any minds in the 1% change? No. Nor will they, doing things that way.

Using the same example, if the Occupy folk want to make actual change occur within that wealthy super-class, they need to be remarkable in a different way. They need to take public office and start businesses. Then, once ensconced within — or at the very least adjacent-to — the system they want to change, they’d finally be able to do so. Until they take this kind of action, however, they’re just preaching to the choir.

The same goes for artists or authors who complain about the fine art market or publishing industry. Want to change it? Create your own market. Succeed and make waves in a way that your intended target will notice; in a way that they’ll feel. Beat them at their own game.

Of course, many people don’t really want to make change: they want to complain. If change is made for them by someone else, excellent, but making change is hard, and they’re way too busy enjoying the benefits of their imperfect situation to want to spend their own time and energy possibly disrupting it but maybe not.

There’s also the fear that an Occupy protestor who starts a business or goes into politics will fall prey to the very attitudes they’re protesting in the first place, or an author will go turncoat and start to support the beliefs of legacy publishers over that of indie artists.

This is a non-argument: if someone changes their mind that means they’re adapting based on new information, and that’s information someone who never makes the attempt — who tries to avoid hearing opinions and facts that don’t support their own preexisting ideologies — doesn’t have. You have to assume there are motivations behind things you find reprehensible as much as there are motivations for the things you find to be morally pure. To think otherwise shows a massive lack of interpersonal relativity.

I’m not taking sides on anything mentioned here, because there are, in general, excellent arguments on both sides of a conflict. But if more people stood up for what they believe in by learning more about that which they don’t (and from legitimate sources of opposite opinions: militant vegans listening to Greenpeace and hardcore Conservatives watching FOX News doesn’t count), we may find we have more in common than we thought and that there are middle grounds few people are willing to look for or talk about.

Know thy enemy, and you may find they aren’t your enemy after all. Or you might confirm that they are, in which case you can happily start throwing stones from the inside. Either way, you’ll be far more capable of making positive change.