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“Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.” ~ James Clear

In a recent conversation on Instagram, one of our supporters learning about the exploitation and suffering inherent in our food system shared how difficult it was for her to get past the graphic images and verbal shaming that she’d experienced from other advocates so that she could feel open to changing her food choices. She said:

“All those horrifying graphic images did the opposite; it was impossible to read the messages. The images were beyond shocking. Phoenix Zones Initiative made my life turn around. Their gentle, but firm messages did it.” ~ @actkindnotcruel

Humans are social creatures, and one of our strongest motivations is a sense of belonging.

We need look no further than our current political landscape to witness the power of making people feel like they belong (or don’t).

As advocates working for a better world, we’re dealing with some heavy and urgent issues: the climate crisis, child labor, animal trafficking, pandemics, ecosystem destruction.

And it’s a natural reaction to want to shock people into changing their behaviors or point of view. But traumatizing, shaming, or insulting people will likely turn them off, make them feel disempowered, and solidify their desire to “belong” somewhere else.

People won’t join the movement to create a better world unless they feel they belong.

There is a lot we can do in our roles as advocates to help people feel inspired, empowered, and included. Here are just 7 things we can do to stoke that sense of belonging:

1. Emphasize what we have in common.
Use the common language of the deeply held values that many of us share—freedom, compassion, justice, security, peace, truth, love—and encourage people to take actions that uphold these values.

2. Be inclusive.
Do a rigorous evaluation to ensure that authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion are centered in your messaging, your actions, and your relationships. Ask yourself: Would any of the populations we want to feel included NOT feel like they belong? If the answer is yes, fix it.

3. Practice relational activism.
Building connection and personal relationships can be a powerful tool for social change. We can inspire change at the fundamental level of person-to-person interactions, which then propels wider social change.

4. Use positive peer pressure.
People want to be part of the “good” team, so show them how taking the desired action reflects social norms. For example, think of the “Don’t Mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign, or how laws promoting social justice or animal protection spread from state to state once they’ve been adopted by a certain number of communities.

5. Use graphic imagery and language judiciously.
While some people respond to the blatant truth, many will find it triggering. We can’t inspire others to shift their thinking if their minds and hearts are closed. At Phoenix Zones Initiative, we’ve found that people respond better when we pair difficult information with inspiring images (such as talking about the horrors of animal research but showing a photo of a happy puppy) and then show what actions we can all take to do more good and less harm.

6. Focus the “blame” on the entity or system and highlight the power of individual responsibility.
People don’t like to feel guilty or to believe that they’re causing harm. Focus on the negative impacts of the corporation, the government entity, and/or the system, but also highlight the individual and collective responsibility we have to create a better world and to use whatever privilege and power we have to make a positive difference.

7. Give them opportunities to connect and succeed.
Systemic-level social change is often a long-term goal. How can we “solve” the climate crisis or child and animal trafficking when there’s so much stacked against us? That’s why making time for people to connect in positive ways is so important. Just as important is offering concrete actions that people can take that enable them to see that they can really make a difference.

For more tips and resources for increasing the effectiveness of your advocacy, check out our effective advocacy toolkit.



Image courtesy of RODNAE Productions/Pexels.

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