How to advocate without being a jerk

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how you can make a big difference for something you believe in without being a jerk.  I like to think that I’m the sort of person who really stands up for what I believe in. But when the big issues come up in the media (and mostly social media), I find myself staying silent. Not because I don’t care, but because I care too much to risk stuffing it up.

It’s so easy now for people to share their message, which is a great thing for people who have an important message. But unfortunately it also makes it easy for people to share aggressive, pushy, condescending, dangerous and plain ignorant messages.

I don’t wanna be that person. So I consider the alternative views and do my research, but then things get so complicated, and I realise, this is not a message that fits into a meme, or a short angry Facebook post. And to try and make it fit just makes me look like the ignorant jerk I was trying not to be. So instead, I stay silent.

And then I find myself wondering if my silence is weakness. If I’m truly standing up for what I believe in if I don’t have the tendency to try and persuade others to see the same views. So I decided to ask a friend, who I consider to be the most gentle and effective advocate of important causes.

The gentle advocate

I met David Addison through a previous job. I didn’t know a lot about him, except that everyone liked and respected him. Over time, I overheard snippets of conversations and realised that he would he would probably despise me if he knew me.

This is a guy who only puts his wheelie bin out twice a year because he simply has no waste – meanwhile I’m bringing my sandwiches to work in cling wrap and throwing the whole lot in the bin when I get a craving for a kebab instead. (Please note, I don’t do this anymore… mainly because I don’t work near that amazing kebab shop anymore)

But the proximity of our working space meant that I got to hear more about David’s views over time, and I was surprised to discover that instead of continuing to feel disgusted in myself or to think that he was just some higher being, I actually wanted to understand more and change some of my own behaviours.

And the interesting thing was, I didn’t hear more about his views because he was pushing them on anyone; I heard about them because people would ask him questions and he would answer openly. He would just speak about things in his own life as if they were totally normal, and while he didn’t pressure anyone else to do the same thing, he gave enough positive information that they wanted to. He’s selective about the information he shares on social media too, so that it is impactful but factual.

When I asked him how he does it, he gave me the following points.

How to advocate for your cause without being a jerk

1. Stop and think why someone said or did something before reacting – everyone has a story

2. Reflect on your own mistakes before judging someone for theirs

3. Give people the benefit of the doubt and focus on behaviours rather than assuming their motives – but always stand up for what you believe

4. Play the long game – every interaction you have with someone will shape your next interaction with them

5. Try to think about the pressure others might be under when they act badly – not to excuse it but to understand it

6. It takes a long time to build trust but 5 seconds to lose it

7. Find excuses to compliment and thank people

8. Listen and observe more than you talk

9. Forgive – others and yourself

10. Laugh – mainly at yourself….

I love all of these points, but number 4 and number 8 really resonated with me, particularly when it comes it making change in a thoughtful and powerful way.

Stop being a jerk

Sitting behind your computer screen and sharing post after post of angry or hateful material just to make your point is not working. The people who you most want to understand are instead switching off to you. You’re only gathering more angry and hateful people on your side.

And you can kid yourself by saying you’re not being hateful, but when you’re harshly judging those who disagree with you instead of trying to understand why they disagree, you’re just generating anger. You’re saying you are right and they are wrong. And maybe they are wrong, but you aren’t going to help educate people by getting them offside.

So here are my tips on how to be more like David and make an actual difference in the world:

  1. Just be a good person yourself. People will be drawn to you and will want to understand your views, and maybe they will change theirs in the process. This is what I see as ‘playing the long game’.
  2. Always consider the other viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree with it, try to understand it.
  3. Share (actual) facts and less emotive rubbish. Sure, emotion sells, but with so much emotion flying around the internet, your message can lose credibility. Do your research and present your information in a thoughtful and factual way. If the facts are powerful enough to generate an emotion on their own, that’s something you can build on.
  4. Use your neighbour’s wheelie bin so you only have to put yours out twice a year (just joking).

What do you think?

I know there will be plenty of people who disagree with me and feel that having a loud voice on important issues is critical to making change. Please get in touch and tell me what you think. I want to understand your views on this too. I think it’s a really interesting thing to think about. How do you make a difference in the world?

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