If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that our brains naturally respond to fear — and we’re seeing that in how America’s new president-elect rose to popularity and in how we’re responding to the news that it worked. The Internet is now full of end-of-the-world sentiment.
And yes, the Internet is hilarious.
There were a lot of things we thought would never happen. They did. Journalists got it wrong and fed the fear. The media’s now praying on post-fear fear. It ain’t pretty, and it’s going to be a tough time ahead.
But in among the hysteria and the zombie apocalypse sentiment, we need to stop, clear our minds, and take a breath. Possibly in sync with this GIF, which may be the best thing we’ve seen all month.
We need to remember that there’s a much bigger scheme out there. No matter the level of power, one person does not control the earth. A political leader doesn’t have a monopoly on change.
We, for one, don’t have to welcome our new overlords.
Social change happens from the ground up — and it starts with a simple conversation, idea or gesture.
Here’s what you can do in your daily life to create the environment for social change.
1. START TALKING ABOUT POLITICS CONSTRUCTIVELY.
If you aren’t talking about politics, start talking about politics. It affects your every move. It’s the same thing that creates the condition for digital innovation in Estonia while denying women in rural Afghanistan an education. It’s the same thing fosters green cities while denying your LGBT friends marriage equality.
Many of us avoid talking about politics because it makes us uncomfortable when we disagree with people. And when it comes to politics, we know we will — because everyone has a right to think about the kind of world they want to live in. But not having these conversations just adds fuel to the fire as people turn insular, form isolated communities and face vicious opposition.
What’s more, avoiding these conversations is creating disillusionment. How often do you hear ‘I don’t care about politics’? According to the United States Election Project, a whopping 231,556,622 eligible voters — nearly half — didn’t vote in their recent election. Trump won Florida by just 1.3%.
It’s time to get over the awkwardness of sharing a conversation with someone who thinks differently. We’re way too quick to brand that Pauline Hanson supporter as a whackjob campaigning for the end of science, and we don’t stop to think about the socioeconomic circumstances and mindsets that cultivate these views. People value different things, and it’s not always because they’re assholes. Value genuine conversations, knowledge sharing and productive political discussions instead.
Here are some top tips, thanks to Ted:
1. Don’t try to educate anyone.
2. Don’t pre-judge.
3. Show respect.
4. Work through it if it’s awkward or difficult.
2. DROP THE DUALISM.
Left-brained / Right-brained.
West / East.
Muslim / Non-Muslim.
Progressive / Conservative.
JUST STAHP. Please.
Our obsession with division is hurting, not helping. We’re isolating entire communities, we’re convincing 12-year-old girls that their brains can’t handle science, and we’re insisting that people identify us opponents of things we don't agree with. It’s not helping.
Think of the way the media covers terrorism, for example. America is safer than ever, and yet there’s widespread fear of threats. Why? Because it’s easy to talk about ‘them’. In Australia, that's how fear of refugees has gained so much traction since the ‘90s. Globally, it’s how the media draws a line between ‘mentally ill’ and ‘Islamic terrorist’, because they’ve missed that extra mile to explain the interplay between mental health, isolation, and gravitation towards an extremist group that validates a young man's fears and concerns.
The fear that ‘they’ are out to get ‘us’ comes back to this. It’s destructive, and the cost is high when we let the complex relationships of the world be dictated by the simplicity of binary categories. Divisions change how we think about big issues. Stop talking about ‘conservatives’ or ‘blue collar workers’, and remember we're all human.
3. EXPAND THE MEDIA YOU LISTEN TO AND TALK ABOUT.
It’s not just coverage of terrorism, but the funnel that restricts the breadth of news you see. Yes, machine learning is awesome — but the more data the internet collects from you, the more it starts to tailor your experience to things you’ve already seen. How often have you been looking at a product online only to see it pop up on your Facebook feed?
The way news reaches us is no different. The internet finds out what we like, sends us more, and puts us in a cycle of seeing a tiny pocket of the world of news out there. In the English-speaking West, we’re particularly limited in what we hear about in the rest of the world. Stories of Latin America are familiar tales of corruption, economic collapse and crime. But people in Latin America are up to a whole lot more, with the same technologies as the rest of us to share progressive debate and create change for a better future. Find out what they’re up to, and unlock a wealth of information.
People in other parts of the world have the same tools as we do to make progress for the future. There’s a lot of good news we’re not hearing about. It’s not all war, fire and murder . There are incredible things happening at the forefront of science, tech, politics and progress, and to find them, we need to diversify our news. Don’t underestimate the little guys. The more positive news we hear, the more we’re empowered to contribute.
4. THINK ABOUT INNOVATION OUTSIDE THE TECH INDUSTRY.
Presidents, Prime Ministers and Monarchs aren’t the only leaders in this world. And they sure as hell aren’t the only ones who can make a difference.
In Kenya, Jamila Abass has bridged the isolation between rural farmers and the Kenyan economic system with technology that brings crop price and market information directly to the growers.
And let’s not forget the free chatbot lawyer created by 19-year-old Joshua Browder that has helped overturn more than 160,000 unwarranted parking tickets in London and New York.
3D printing is creating access to health services where there was no access. None of these relied on political figures to change the world; they disrupted it themselves by providing new ways of thinking and doing.
But it’s not just the tech industry that can innovate. Simple ways of thinking differently can have huge effects. This five-year-old girl dressed up as a hotdog at her dance school’s princess day in June. She’s our new hero.
Thanks, #hotdogprincess, for reminding young girls that there’s more to life than princess culture. And for doing that by dressing as a hotdog. That’s innovation.
Earlier in Brisbane this year, a trial of extended bike lane hours raised fear of small businesses losing customers over lack of parking. So a group of people decided to hold an open, weekly café crawl on bikes. The idea was to drive business, get people thinking about cycling, and show the community there was a demand for bike lanes. That’s innovation.
Consider these questions:
1. What’s the problem?
2. What do people not know?
3. How can we tell them?
Now try thinking outside the square to answer #3. We can’t fight fire with fire —so bring in a new element.
You don’t need to be in tech to innovate. Thinking differently can have a huge impact, especially when we’ve identified that avoiding politics, thinking in binary opposites, restricting our media sources and relying on the status quo don’t work. Find the simple things that do work, and create the right environment for social change.