Why are you being so emotional? Stop being affected by the things you can’t control.
If you are like me, I am often times called a radical and being too emotional or sensitive over the things I supposedly can’t control in this world. Gaslighted and dismissed as a tree-loving, capitalist-hating hippy by my own parents. People blame it on the generation gap, but I am so confused because aren’t we not living on the same, damaged earth?
Let us uncover the perception of whether humans really just don’t give a shit about the earth.
Why is climate change considered controversial?
In spite of the overwhelming evidence about the destruction caused by climate change, it still remains the toughest, most intractable political issue we, as a society have faced. This is due to the differing climate change narratives told by governments, politicians, and corporations to fit their own agenda. A very large hurdle to overcome. However, the challenges of speaking about climate change in an objective and rational manner may also come from within.
Naria Haigh, the author of scenario planning for climate change, mentioned that “the issue is that people’s positions on climate change are based on their values and beliefs, which are tightly bound to their emotions.” Emma Frances Bloomfield, the assistant professor of Communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas echoed that “the overwhelming wealth of scientific evidence can make this topic feel even more polarising.” Confidence can be interpreted as arrogance, which can lead to skeptics feeling isolated and silenced.
This does not mean you completely avoid talking about climate change. Here are some ways to have an emotionally intelligent and productive conversation that doesn’t devolve into personal attacks.
1. The number 1 rule is to listen
Remember that just like how you want the other party to keep an open mind, we should also do the same. The number one rule here is to listen.
Nobody likes being ambushed, before jumping right into the topic, we should always seek permission to start the conversation. The goal is not to convince the person of your perspective. The goal here is to have a normal conversation and that only happens when people listen.
2. Make it about them, not about you
If this is the first conversation you are having with this person, you should be giving them the most air time. Make it about them, and not about you! You are there to ask about their thoughts and perspectives.
Start by asking an open-ended and neutral question about climate change. If they start talking, resist any urge to respond right away and never interrupt. I understand that this can be super tricky, especially if you have strong feelings or if the other person has a differing opinion.
If the other person does not say much, try to encourage them to say more by asking follow-up questions. You can draw on their personal experiences.
Listening and understanding the source of the denial can help you craft a conversation.
3. Providing reassurance by reflecting back on what you heard them say
Reassurance enhances our confidence. Non-verbal cues like head nodding, eye contact, and smiles reassure the other party and encourage them to continue talking. You may wish to reflect back on what you heard them say. Refer to their words to let them know that you are listening and that you care.
4. Connect to their values
You would most likely have this conversation with a friend or someone familiar. Ask yourself, what do you already know about this person? What do you think they value?
We should strive to meet them at their values instead of their position. Circling back to the beginning when we mentioned why people get defensive when speaking about climate change, their position is usually based on their values and beliefs.
Erec Smith, associate professor of Rhetoric and Composition at York College of Pennsylvania, says their source of resistance can be connected to their values. He uses activist Jonathan Smucker’s tactic called “narrative insurgency” to look for common ground.
Smucker elaborates how the narrative insurgency approach examines the other’s narrative, learning the component parts and looking for “allies” inside the said narrative.
He gives this example:
In the Biblical creation story, God charges humankind to be the caretakers of God’s sacred creation. Rather than directly attacking a creationist’s whole belief system, a “narrative insurgent” looks to provoke a “home-grown insurgency” inside the belief system against the most problematic beliefs (which, in this case, is indifference to climate change). By stressing humanity’s mandate to care for God’s creation, that ally belief is singled out for positive reinforcement within a complex belief system.
This approach works with people’s tendency toward confirmation bias, which smartMeme summarizes as “people’s habit of screening information based on their own beliefs. In other words, people are much more likely to believe something that reinforces their existing opinions and values than to accept information that challenges their beliefs.”
5. Remember to say thank you!
Strive to keep an open mind during these conversations because having a diverse view cultivates empathy and intelligence. Haigh echoes that “Opposing views help you build rigour,” and that “They make you do your homework to ensure you know the foundations of your views, so you can either defend them better or update them if needed.”
If we want to have more conversations about the topic, always remember to thank them after the conversation and possibly reflecting what you learn from them. Ending it on a positive note makes it more likely that the conversation may happen again.
One little chat may not change anyone’s life but it sure opens the door to more climate conversations in the future. It is all about building trust.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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