Featured in the Washington Post, CNS researcher examines how we talk about crises and offers tips to better our narratives and inspire change
Images of overcrowded hospitals, maps of wildfire destruction, real-time twitter updates of political upheaval. It seems that over the past year, stories of crisis and catastrophe follow us everywhere we go— so much so that the term “doomscrolling” (the act of almost obsessively consuming news of suffering and injustice on social media) gained global popularity. Many of us feel overwhelmed, not knowing how to create positive change.
Ezra Markowitz, Environmental Conservation, recently published an article in the Washington Post discussing what decades of social-science research tell us about the effectiveness of different approaches to catastrophe story-telling. In particular, he details four ways to improve how we talk about crises and encourage powerful action.
From “After 2020, we need to talk about how we talk about catastrophe:”
First, avoiding overt crisis and catastrophe frames does not mean playing down the urgency of the challenge. Urgency comes not only from recognizing and trying to avoid negative consequences; it can also come from identifying the kind of world we want to live in and striving to make that world our reality.
Second, communicators need to engage the full suite of human emotional responses, not just fear, despair and guilt. Research by psychologists and social scientists finds that people are motivated to take costly prosocial action by a wide array of emotions, including awe, pride and anger. Stoking negative emotions neglects the critical role that positive emotions such as hope and gratitude play in sustaining participation in social movements over the long haul.
“If we want to empower ourselves and our communities to address the challenges before us, it’s time to tell stories that actually work.” — Ezra Markowitz
Third, people need coherent explanations about how our problems became problems in the first place. Simply yelling “Panic!” in a crowded room doesn’t work when the challenge is complex, long term and counterintuitive. It’s not enough simply to tell people that a problem exists.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, stories that foreground pragmatic, concrete solutions that people can see and feel are critical to promote public engagement with the societal challenges we face. Even when the path forward is difficult, solutions-oriented narratives and imagery offer a positive vision that can promote greater issue engagement, efficacy and large-scale public action.
In truth, we are living through an era of compounding crisis and catastrophe. If we want to empower ourselves and our communities to address the challenges before us, it’s time to tell stories that actually work.
Source: Environmental Conservation News