5.3. The Problem with “Changing Hearts and Minds”

Too often, it’s a way of making people feel like they’re being productive…when, in fact, it doesn’t lead to more productive action at all.

When it comes to social change…a lot of people are all talk.

I’m not talking about the folks who deny or distract themselves from all the big problems out there that deserve our attention. They’ve got to look themselves in the mirror, and figure out how and why they’re deceiving themselves.

But even when you’re really honest with yourself—even when you really accept that there’s a lot of messed up things going on out there, and you need to be a part of making things better—there are still a lot of ways you can deceive yourself into being counterproductive.

Like I’ve said before, successful movements only do one thing: they get a critical mass of people to act differently.

So if you’re alienating people, turning them off, discouraging them, shrinking the pool of motivated actors instead of swelling their numbers…you aren’t helping.

If you’re doing a lot of talking, arguing, and complaining, but the end result isn’t more people taking more productive action…you aren’t helping.

Even if it feels like you’re getting people to reconsider, question their assumptions, or come around to your way of thinking—but it doesn’t result in those people taking more productive action…you aren’t helping.

This is the main problem with the often-repeated maxim that the way to social change lies in changing people’s “hearts and minds.”

Sure, it’s part of the process. But it has to be done in the service of the greater goal: getting more people off their butts, taking productive action.

A lot of people are resistant. A lot of people don’t want to change their mind. A lot of people don’t want to accept that there’s work to be done—much less that they need to do some of that work themselves.

We spend an awful lot of time and energy trying to change those hearts and minds—increasingly yelling at them and accusing them of being part of the problem, which only makes them more resistant.

Why do we spend so much time fighting over the contents of hearts and minds, when the real goal is action?

People don’t have to agree on everything to work together.

They don’t even have to like each other.

In the words of the famous black feminist scholar, Patricia Hill Collins: even if we can’t create “coalitions of conscience,” we can still participate in “coalitions of convenience” to address our mutual problems, without selling out or surrendering our values.

Why are we almost always using the tactics of yelling, accusing, and blaming—all ways to alienate as many people as we persuade—instead of more inclusive, empathetic ways to engage with people?

Furthermore, who says talking is the best way to change people’s hearts and minds, anyway?

Maybe showing people, through your own productive actions, will speak louder and more convincingly than anything you could ever say.

So be careful, if you’re passionate about fixing our social problems, that you don’t get too wrapped up in “changing hearts and minds.”

Too often, it’s a way of making people feel like they’re being productive…when, in fact, it doesn’t lead to more people taking more productive action at all.


This is the 79th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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