David Suzuki: Better Discourse For A Kinder World

microphones1-480w

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

The U.S. election was a chilling illustration of the atrocious state of public discourse. It doesn’t bode well for a country once admired for leadership in education and science.

As public relations expert and former David Suzuki Foundation board chair James Hoggan writes in I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, “polluted public discourse is an enormous obstacle to change.” How, he asks, do we “create the space for higher quality public debates where passionate opposition and science shape constructive, mind-changing conversations”?

If those vying to be president of the most powerful country in the world couldn’t do it, what hope is there? For his book, co-written with Grania Litwin, Hoggan interviewed a range of thinkers, from linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff to the Dalai Lama. Whether or not their insights can raise the level of political discourse among politicians who think name-calling, logical fallaciesand lies constitute legitimate debate remains to be seen, but the book offers advice for anyone who wants to improve conversations and create positive change in this age of online bickering, propaganda and entrenched positions.

Social psychologist Carol Tavris says part of the problem relates to “cognitive dissonance.” Unlike scientists, who revise their positions in response to testing and challenging hypotheses, most people resist changing their minds, especially if they feel it would threaten them or their real or imagined privileges.

Yale Law School psychology and law professor Dan Kahan says confirmation bias and motivated reasoning also come into play. Confirmation bias is people’s tendency to seek and select information that confirms their beliefs. Motivated reasoning is the unconscious habit of processing information to suit an end or goal that doesn’t necessarily conform to accurate beliefs.

Climate change is a good case in point. Although evidence for human-caused global warming is backed by mountains of research compiled over decades by scientists from around the world, and its impacts are observable, many people refuse to accept it, promoting debunked ideas and fossil fuel industry talking points, because they feel profits or their way of life will be negatively affected by addressing it. “When you have a combination of economic, ideological and psychological biases all in play, it’s very difficult for human beings to easily accept large-scale social and economic change,” Tavris observes.

So how do we overcome these stumbling blocks, especially when climate change deniers hold power in the U.S.? In looking at changing perceptions and habits around things like seatbelts, smoking and environmental protection, Tavris argues that dialogue and changing people’s hearts isn’t enough, that “you have to first change the laws, change public notions of what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior and change the economic consequences of practices you want to alter.” That’s more than a challenge in the current political atmosphere.

But we have to start somewhere. And improving the ways we communicate with each other is essential. Much of current discussion around the U.S. election result centres on politicians not listening to those left behind as global trade and technology outpaced antiquated economic systems. Many say the Democrats failed in part because they abandoned those who lost livelihoods in coal mines or factories as technologies changed and corporate leaders shifted production to parts of the world with lower labour costs and standards. Although the president-elect’s choices of appointments and advisers show he’s deep in the pockets of corporate America, especially the fossil fuel industry, he succeeded in tapping into the disillusionment.

We must listen to those who are suffering. We should also consider the difference between debate and dialogue. As social scientists Steve Rosell and Daniel Yankelovich tell Hoggan, “debate is about seeing weaknesses in other people’s positions, while dialogue is about searching for strength and value in our opponents’ concerns.”

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh says, “Speak the truth, but not to punish.” While facts and reason are important, Hoggan points out, they’re not enough to change people’s minds. “Research coming from cognitive and brain science tells us if we want to be persuasive we must appeal to people’s values and speak from a moral position, rather than layering on more data and statistics.”

The world is in a precarious position. Hoggan’s book offers a path to the kind of discourse necessary to resolving our collective problems.

Originally published on the David Suzuki Foundation

Image credit: opensource.com via Flickr

James Hoggan on the Power of “Dread”

Here’s a new column in BC Business by James Hoggan on “How dread increases society’s perception of risk.” 

Jim writes that,

“The power of emotion is a critical consideration in risk communication. No matter how good you think your argument is in a time of crisis, regardless of how provable your facts, if the public feels its liberty or right to fair treatment or livelihood is in danger, you’re losing the battle to dread.”

You can read the entire article over on BC Business at: How dread increases society’s perception of risk, James Hoggan.

Blogging tip #11: Take a Stand

Like in traditional media formats, controversy sells and you need to look know further than someone like  shock jock radio host Rush Limbaugh who has built an empire on this idea.

While you don’t have to be nearly as over-the-top as someone like Limbaugh, you can attract new traffic by blogging about your position on an issue related to your business.

You will also see a lot of return visits because when you take a position in a blog post, you increase the liklihood that others will add their own two cents in the comment section and check back to see if you or others have responded. On that note, I recommend that if comments do begin to appear that you engage with the commenters – especially if you are just starting out as a blogger.

All over the internet there are these longstanding epic “flame wars” or heated comment section arguments that have been going on for years logging thousands of comments still to this day. All because the writer took a stand like, “Why I love my Blackberry and hate the iPhone” or ‘Why the Washington Redskins Stink.”

Taking a stand can be tricky though and it is important that you remain respectful and get your facts right. Past that, go for it.

Taking a stand is a great way to show your thought leadership and expertise and it can also engage a very large audience in an interesting conversation.

Written by Kevin Grandia

[This is part of an ongoing series of articles on 50 Simple Tips to Better Blogging and you can check out all the previous tips there]

Monday’s Social Media Caffeine Buzz

Here’s what’s hot in social media and online marketing that has us buzzing here at Hoggan this week.

How to use government website information to create sticky linkbait
This is a great column on Search Engine Land about driving valuable traffic that stays on your website by providing government information related to your service and/or product. It is something we do on our blogs and a recommended strategy for our clients. This article has some interesting polling data by Pew to back up this tactic.

Yahoo acquired location-based social network
The battle continues to heat up around location-based social networking channels, with Yahoo buying an Indonesian network called Korpol. This is a sector we’re watching very closely as it continues to grow with the most popular location-based networks in North America being Gowalla and Foursquare.

Design entry pages, not homepages
This article nails it. With the way people share links (i.e. twitter),  seek information (i.e. Google) and filter the information they receive (i.e. RSS feeds), there is less and less traffic visiting your homepage in comparison to the individuals sub-pages on your website.  This is a very important shift that is happening and will have many people reconsidering the traditional models of web design and information architecture.

Murdoch’s next step: hiding the UK Times articles from search engines
I wish Murdoch all the luck in the world with this idea and I am sure he’s thought through the idea that information in the form of news has become a very cheap commodity online. Maybe he has a trick up his sleeve?

Wendy’s frosty gets a social media infusion
Good on Wendy’s, this looks like a very comprehensive summer social media marketing program. Lots of ideas here for any business wondering how social media can be used to promote their product or service.

(p.s. I know this “monday” buzz is coming out on Tuesday, but it was a long weekend here in Canada)

Monday’s Social Media Caffeine Buzz

Let’s get right into what our Social Media team here at Hoggan is reading/thinking/talking about right now.

Foursquare Mayors now get discounts at Starbucks
Why not start of this week’s Buzz with a caffeinated story about my favorite coffee shop. The geo-location social media game/sharing platform Foursquare gets some serious profile after Starbucks announced the Foursquare ‘Mayor” of any location in the US will get $1 off frappacinos until the end of June. The “Mayor” in Foursquare is the person who has updated their status the most times at any given location indexed on the Foursquare platform. Very nice marketing for Starbucks as well, who will definitely reap the benefits of showing how social media savvy they are.

While many remain cynical about the long-term viability of Foursquare and other geo-location social media platforms, they continue to gain headlines. Kind of reminds me of when Twitter first got going.

50 Simple Tips to Better Blogging
My long-awaited blogging guide is now in production. I am rolling it out here on the Hoggan blog as a series of 50 posts that will then indexed into a downloadable e-book. You can follow the series easily by subscribing to our RSS feed or you can check back in a month or so for the entire guide.

Hosting With GoDaddy? Might Want To Rethink That Decision
Do you use Godaddy for any of your web hosting?  A lot of people do, including me. I run a few smaller blogs on the platform while I use a much larger private server that runs on the Amazon cloud for any commercial projects.  Apparently blogs using wordpress on the Godaddy servers are vulnerable to being hacked.  This in-depth article has all you need to know about fixing the issue.

The 8-Step SEO Strategy
I have been following this series over on SEOmoz who I think are the best when it comes to the world of search engine optimization. The series by Laura Lippay provides a good starter kit to anyone looking to build up their companies presence in search engines.

Facebook’s latest privacy woes
Privacy continues to be a huge issue over at Facebook and last week saw the company again making headlines. Last week the company released new privacy guidelines in a handy 5,830 page document and people are not too happy. Like Google, much of the value of Facebook lies in it’s massive database of personal information offered up by its members and the social media giant has never been too good at getting the balance right when it comes to defining what information it does and doesn’t own.

That’s it for this edition of the Buzz. What did we miss? Leave your comment or question below.

50 Simple Tips to Better Blogging

I have been blogging, managing other organization’s blogs and developing blogging strategies for more than 4 years now and have learned a lot.

I have always wanted to do a 50 Simple Tips to Better Blogging guide for clients and anyone else who might be interested.

I am slowly but surely working up to 50 tips and I am indexing them all here in one easy-to-find place.

I hope you find them helpful and please let me know if you have a blogging tip you would like to share and I will include it:

Blogging Tip #1: Write a ongoing blog series

Blogging Tip #2: Cross-Posting

Blogging Tip #3: When you get it wrong, eat big and fast

Blogging Tip #4:  Write like you have a million readers

Blogging Tip #5: Try Video, it’s King

Blogging Tip #6: Beware of Epic Server Fail

Blogging Tip #7: Link karma

Blogging Tip #8: Paragraph Breaks

Blogging Tip #9: Meme tracking

Blogging Tip #10: Hyperlinking on Keywords

Blogging Tip #11: Take a Stand

Blogging Tip # 12: Use Google Analytics

Blog Tip #13: Watch your Bounce Rate