“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” ~ Czesław Miłosz
“It is not easy to keep silent when silence is a lie.” ~ Victor Hugo
Most of you have probably experienced the “false consensus effect” in yourself: you become interested in a topic (let’s say, “homeschooling”) and suddenly it seems as this is everywhere: you start seeing articles in the news, books in the library, people bring it up to conversations and it becomes easy to find support groups, programs and materials.
Reality is vast and diverse, but we can’t focus on all the things at the same time: otherwise we would go crazy. Our eyes have the capacity to see all what’s in front of them and even on the sides of your head. But your brain is selective and chooses only what it decides is more important or urgent…the other images stay in your brain, but they are ignored by your consciousness and may come up during your dreams or if forced to remember. Similar processes happen with our hearing, feeling, smelling and so on…it is called “selective attention” and when it affects our cognition; its name is “selective perception”
The same happens with the topics we focus on: they become “our truth” and we suddenly believe that more people are engaged on the same than what is true. This is the reason behind political and social campaigns gone wrong: leaders and followers over-estimate the numbers of those who support them (“false consensus effect”) and then are surprised when they lose elections or support for an idea…
False consensus is also reinforced by ourselves as we tend to read, watch and listen to media, books and documentaries that have a similar worldview or represent a similar interest. We even hang out with like-minded people or at least work, study and/or live with people who share similar cultural background, economic class and so on: social workers and career counsellors like myself tend to work, at least 9-5 with other social workers and career counsellors.
While both selective attention and perception may have good reasons to exist (imagine how our lives were if we paid attention to absolutely everything in front of us!) and act as both psychological and social protection (of “who” we are and what groups we belong, both human needs), they can also block the flow that is so necessary to solve complex problems (or, as we have, predicaments)
This functions the same both at the individual as at the social/community/global level: there are times in life where we need to force ourselves to be open and accept things that may be against our schemas, beliefs and worldviews…
In the chapter called “Protect, ban, save and stop” of George Marshall’s book “Don’t even think about it” he shares how climate change became an “environmental” issue and how that framed it as something different from other (more urgent in most people’s minds) problems such as war, poverty, unemployment, crime and the sort…
Words, says Marshall have “frames” attached to them and the same happens with other cues or code-guides that become common among people who “belong” to a certain worldview: for many, “environmentalists” or “greens” represent a bunch of doom sayers who are always extremist about “protecting, banning, saving and stopping” things…Marshall shares: “the codes are another strong reason why so many people ignore climate change: the visual and metaphorical language that surrounds climate change marks it, irredeemably, as an environmental issue.” And later he writes: “..for many working people, meatpacking plants, factories, power plants, and traffic jams mean development and paid employment. Multi-lane freeways mean mobility and freedom.”
In other words, when you need to pay the bills, feed your children or keep a roof over your head, climate change sounds like a very far away thing or even a barrier for your personal goals and priorities.
What all this mean to all of us?
I am a lucky person; I was blessed with diversity and wonderful surprises all around me all my life and that made me a pretty open person: I have lived in three different countries/cultures and moved among different groups and classes. In a way, never “belonging” to a particular group, being an out-cast allows you to see things differently and not-so-attached to frames and worldviews…what for others may be a curse, was always an opportunity for me: the opportunity of exploring different worlds and see things from a distance.
My first clash with the reality of “not belonging” and people’s frames came when I was around six-year-old: a classmate (girl) asked me if I believed in God (I guess I was already a bit weird-looking for her standards). When I answered “No” her face became pale and scared. She yelled: “then you must believe in Devil!”…
I didn’t have the words (or the knowledge) at that early age to explain my relationship with trees, animals and the soil, or how I travelled in dreams and had already met a friend who has since manifested through so many humans and events in my life…but I did feel segregated and couldn’t understand why she would see the world as black-and-white (God or Devil) and not be curious enough to ask what I was feeling…
In a comment to my last post, a great blogger and almost sister-in-spirit, Carol, shared a link to a fable: “The Ant and the Grasshopper”. The grasshopper enjoys life while it is fun and easy and mocks the ant that doesn’t join him because she is helping her community to save food for the winter time. As expected, winter comes and ants enjoy communal food while the grasshopper dies of hunger.
I wouldn’t like to be labelled as an ant…or a grasshopper. But there are things I know are truth for everybody in this planet: you and me, “environmentalists”, “deniers”, “delusionals”, “permaculturists” and all those in between, all need fresh air, clean water, soil to grow our food, resources to build shelters and clothes…we all need to live in a relatively stable climate and we all care about our loved ones.
“But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
We all live in this planet, but we also live in different “worlds”: people are at different levels of understanding of issues and we all carry our own “frames” on our shoulders…patience and compassion may be good ways of allowing each and every one of us to deal with what’s happening…except that the winter is approaching a bit fast and ants are not enough to deal with the burden of collecting enough food for everybody or sharing the news that better stop the party.
The world is full of colours (and apparently, shades of grey too); the world is full of objects, ideas and people and beings and facts we choose not to perceive due to our selective attention or perception. But when all what we care about is being threatened, we can no longer stick to our lens…
And no matter what the words carry or how the messengers look like, there are times, where blue is blue and red is red…which pill will you choose?
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
For more on Climate Science Denial, check this upcoming course (free MOOC) at edX: https://www.edx.org/course/making-sense-climate-science-denial-uqx-denial101x