Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Give People Hope

Life beats down on us like a hailstorm. I can’t count the times I’ve sat through a lecture, read an article, or watched a program in which someone enumerated all the things that are wrong with something. Christianity is declining in America. Terrorists are taking control of some foreign government. Drug lords are killing people in Mexico. The price of fuel is going up. Like one hailstone after another, it beats us down until we have no hope left. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And I don’t mean we just have to reverse the video as has been popular and have Mexico people killing drug lords and foreign governments controlling terrorists. I also don’t mean we simply pretend this stuff isn’t happening. For as long as we walk this green earth, we have the power to change the world. We don’t have to beat people down to do it.

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes communicators can make is to believe that people will take action if they see the problem. People won’t take the action you want unless you tell them what action they should take. I’m reminded of a scene from Independence Day. It’s pretty obvious throughout much of the movie that the aliens are bad dudes that outgun our finest military equipment. Even a big bomb wouldn’t take them down. Everyone in the world was motivated to destroy the aliens, but motivation wasn’t enough. Then we have that scene where the drunk crop-duster rams his fighter into the enemy’s weapon and takes down the ship. So, the President tells them to broadcast the enemy’s weakness to the whole world. It isn’t until that moment that we finally feel hope. Yeah, the enemy is a bunch of big bad dudes, but we can beat them.

If you want to destroy people’s hope, delineate the problem well enough to convince them something should be done, but don’t give them their marching orders to go fix the problem. The problem so many of us face is that we know what we see is a problem and we know we want to do something about it, but we don’t have any idea what needs to be done. And maybe that is the problem so many communicators face. They see the problem and know something needs to be done, but they aren’t sure what.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard concerning a situation like this is to motivate people to take the next step along the journey. If you don’t have a solution and it isn’t clear that someone else does, then maybe the next step is to get people to sit down and discuss what can be done about the problem. Any movement, no matter how slight, toward a better solution can give people hope in a bad situation.

Whatever the case, give people something they can do about the situation. Don't just tell them how bad the situation is. The situation may be very bad, but give them an action they can take and you will give them hope.