xenologer: (snail cuddle)
Long (by my standards) but very worthy video that not only fits my experience as a skeptic talking both to other skeptics and to believers who are pretty sure atheists are empty vessels for their apologism, but also as a feminist talking to people who are pretty sure they don't talk to feminists, and as a liberal talking to people who are pretty sure they don't talk to liberals.

"Carrie Poppy, Director of Communications at the James Randi Educational Foundation and co-host of the popular "Oh No, Ross and Carrie!" podcast, discusses the importance of using inclusive language while doing outreach. Combining communication strategy and a spirit of friendly investigation, Carrie suggests that skeptical activists mirror themselves after a group she investigated and joined... the Mormon church."

Sorry I couldn't find a transcript of this talk. I would love one for accessibility reasons and for easy citation, but there doesn't seem to be one.



I think this is a great thing for people to consider. We have to be willing to draw boundaries, but it's also just plain tactically wiser to be kind to people up until the point when they make it absolutely clear that they'll repay it with dickery.

This is why when a friend of mine was finding that he cared more about truth than he did about what the truth could take from him, I explicitly told him not to chew his still-Christian wife's ankles off. I have been the still-identifying-as-theist partner of an atheist, and the best wisdom I had to pass on was that he should not get so excited about what he's figured out that he starts using his wife for target practice.

He took this under advisement. I was pleased. I didn't like the woman, but I felt I had done the right thing anyway, because what she deserved as a fellow human being and what would be most tactically effective for him happened to be the same option: be nice, even when someone is being ridiculous.

(It didn't work, but it was still the right thing to do!)

Now, this approach is exhausting and time-consuming to the point that not everybody can be required or even expected to do it. Additionally, an activist movement needs more than friendly and relateable people willing to connect on an individual level with every single goddamn person we encounter, which means we cannot all be diplomats. We cannot all be ambassadors. If we are all busy welcoming everybody, there's nobody left over to draw boundaries or do guiding work.

However, this kind of ambassadorial work--in my experience--is only effective if you do it the way Poppy describes.

Concede everything possible. Apologize whenever possible. Speak about personal experience only whenever possible. Rather than talking about how someone's unsubstantiated and potentially toxic dogma pisses you off (even though if you give a crap about your fellow humans, it probably does piss you off), speak from a position of sadness and hurt whenever you feel resilient enough to do so.

I cannot understate how important that latter one is. So many people who hold and act on toxic beliefs do so because they don't see the people they're affecting as real. This is true of people who think that atheists are heartless fun-ruining psychopaths just like it's true of people who think feminists are shrieking hysterical castrating harpies who want all babies born with penises to be pre-emptively convicted for rape at birth.

This is not a value judgement; it's a tactical decision. People are armored against outrage almost universally. Not everyone is susceptible to the "listen I am a person like you and I know you care whether you hurt people and this hurts me" approach, but far fewer people are armored against hurt compared to anger. For one example of how I have gotten back to this approach and the results I am having, check out my Obligatory Chick-Fil-A Post, an entry I wrote after all that bullshit with Chick-Fil-A shredded a lot of my peace and patience and I had to climb back up to the point that I was able to do what I know is most effective for me.

I am sure there are people somewhere who can make more progress by saying, "You are an entire bag of dicks and everyone who ever loved you was wrong," because there are lots of persuasive motherfuckers in the world and everybody's got a different approach. I know there is someone on the planet with a Charisma score of like 50 who could say those precise words and have people around them go, "Well I'll be goshderned. Am I a bag of dicks? I should work on that."

I am not that person, though. Here is what works for me.

Granted, it's vulnerable. It requires a lot of courage on my part because it means not pre-emptively striking at people I think are likely to be dickbags, and continuing to work through things this way even though lots of those people *gasp!* turn out to be dickbags after all.

But they won't all turn out to be dickbags, and the people who seem like dickbags but aren't (and instead just have no fucking clue how not to seem like dickbags) are the best candidates for outreach we'll ever get. They are the low-hanging fruit, people. Go get them.

When I have the energy for this exhausting but highly effective approach, I consider it one of the best things I can do for any movement I am a part of, not least because I know how few people have the energy to do a lot of it. The more I do, the better a contribution I feel like I am making, and so I wanted to pass this on in the hopes that others who could be good at the in-group empathy-based ambassadorial approach will take from this entry the motivation they need to give it a try.

The more ambassadors go out and pick up the easy converts, the fewer people our beautiful and precious firebrands will have to go stomp on. That's good for everyone!

Date: 2012-09-02 12:35 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] megaptera
megaptera: Megaptera novaeangliae (Default)
it's also just plain tactically wiser to be kind to people up until the point when they make it absolutely clear that they'll repay it with dickery.

HA. Yes. I've been thinking about that one lately myself. What the right refers to derogatorily as "political correctness" is actually a form of diplomacy. Would you walk into your first meeting with aliens from another planet and just pull out a gun? No? Then you recognize that when interacting with others whose relationship with you starts out as neutral, it's better to improve the relationship or maintain the neutrality, rather than aggravating the other party. You also realize that because you're a participant in the situation, part of the responsibility of keeping the relationship from going sour is on you.

So why would anyone consciously go around using words that other people don't like, changing neutral relationships to negative ones, and hiding behind the defense that it's weak to be "politically correct"? Either they think they have to antagonize others, or they really don't understand the causal connection between their own words and the other party's negative reaction.

Date: 2012-08-31 03:50 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] afro-dyte.livejournal.com
ext_118625: (Default)
From what I've observed, people (especially privileged people) often cannot tell the difference between a social justice activist and someone just talking about what certain experiences mean for their lives. More than a few people would assume that, because I talk and think a lot about Blackness, queerness, and womanhood that I see myself as or set out to be a social justice activist. I don't. So when people come at me like my life is meant to educate people or improve them, I do take it as an insult.

Date: 2012-08-31 06:26 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] virginia-fell.livejournal.com
And that makes sense.

I have just found that speaking for me in ways that are intended to be compelling for someone else is a better way to get them to consider what I am saying than telling them I want them to change their mind.

Now, sometimes, this is too fussy and roundabout. If someone is acting in a fucked up manner, my urge to straight-up ask for what I need trumps my urge to use personal narratives and in-group language to seduce and cajole someone into seeing where I am coming from, and I just say, "When you X it makes me feel Y because I tell myself Z so I need this other thing instead."

I just think this is particularly important for skeptics who are on some level saying, "By saying I am here, I am saying I think someone else is wrong about something" in a way that other activists are not. Not only is it a dick move for skeptics to just sort of unleash on people whenever they mention an empirically insupportable thing they believe (like homeopathy), that really doesn't work as a persuasive tactic.

I just have found that people have responded better to my activism when it doesn't quite register in their brains as activism, and instead registers as another human talking about herself.

I guess it could blur the lines a bit when some people really are just talking about themselves and not intending to use it as Happy Learning Storytime for anyone else. But I am not sure how to avoid that. =/

Date: 2012-08-31 07:56 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] veronica-rich.livejournal.com
I know there is someone on the planet with a Charisma score of like 50 who could say those precise words and have people around them go, "Well I'll be goshderned. Am I a bag of dicks? I should work on that."

I am not that person, though.


Me either.

Date: 2012-08-31 11:56 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] fatpie42.livejournal.com
I don't know if you can be arsed to finish it, but if you really want a transcript I've typed out one up to 16:14

"If You Were Me: Using In-Group Language to Reach Out"
- Carrie Poppy

I'm Carrie Poppy. I am the director of Communications for the James Randi Educational Foundation.

I used to be a believer. I was a believer in a lot of things. I was very religious, I practiced alternative medicine, I used energy healing, I once performed an exorcism, I believed I had psychic powers. I pretty much went through every wooey belief you can think of. And I'm going to tell you two of my most profound experiences with belief. One was when I was really truly a believer and one is after I became a sceptic and started investigating claims from a sceptical point of view.

I want to examine two things: What made me leave a belief (in my case it was the belief that homeopathy was effective) and what pulled me into a community (a spiritual community in my case). And I'm going to talk about the Mormon Church which I investigated with my co-host last year. I want to think about how my experience mirrors other believers' experiences and how we can use these lessons to reach out.

So, like all great New Age types I dabbled pretty much in every kind of alternative medicine, but one of my favourites was homeopathy. So the first time someone actually told me what homeopathy was I was completely floored. I felt like I'd been duped this whole time to believe that this worked - and it doesn't really. And I thought, "Right, I've been suffering from chronic headaches my whole life. I've been waiting for these things to work for hours and hours, and they usually finally did. Does this mean this had nothing to do with the medicine?!! I just felt so taken advantage of, but people had actually been telling me this for years. If you're a believer in alternative medicine, you're constantly told that that doesn't have science behind it, but you don't listen. So what is it that made me listen to this person and finally take it seriously? But, I know why. It was my boyfriend at the time. His name's Evan. And he said "Oh my gosh Carrie! I have to show you this video! So there's this guy called 'James Rand-eye' and he did this video about what homeopathy actually is - and it's NUTS!"

So, why did I listen to Evan? Well Evan was MY people. He was a weirdo. So he was totally like me. We shared this sort of common viewpoint. And, look at this guy (picture is showing on screen), he was like me in every way as you can see. This is him playing a minstrel at a children's show. And he was my in-group. I didn't have to do much to relate to Evan, so when he came to me with this information I was like "He's not trying to manipulate me. He's not calling me stupid. He's just like me."

Date: 2012-08-31 11:56 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] fatpie42.livejournal.com
So when others were telling what was wrong with alternative medicine what I really looking for was whether they were 'in-group'. I wanted to know whether they were progressive like me, whether they rejected corporate greed when it manipulated people, if they valued health like I did, and if they cared about people more than the bottom-line. Or if they just dismissed atypical ideas for being atypical. Of course, at the time I wouldn't have told you that that's what I was looking for, but I don't think I even knew that that's what I was looking for. When you're talking to someone you don't realise that you're listening for this in-group language, but most of the time you are. And unless you're a sort of perfect information-computing machine, you're probably like me too, at least a little. So let's examine for a second how you feel listening to some thoughts from people who are your in-group versus out-group.

So here's our friend Carl Sagan:
"Walk with those seeking truth... Run from those who think they've found it." - Carl Sagan

And contrast that with how you feel just reading a quote from Deepak Chopra:
"Perhaps the depth of love can be calibrated by the number of different selves that are actively involved in a given relationship." - Deepak Chopra

Or how about Julia Sweeney:
"We find that people today need to satisfy their intellect in addition to their beliefs when traditional religions do not address this issue." - Julia Sweeney

And contrast that with how you feel just hearing from our friend Sylvia Browne saying:
"Happiness is a byproduct of having purpose and meaning; it isn't a goal." - Sylvia Browne

So, if you're like me you read these quotes and you say"Well, they're all like a little insightful, but even just hearing from Sylvia Browne or Deepak Chopra kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth."

But, consider that I actually switched the quotes. It was Deepak Chopra who said:
"Walk with those seeking truth... Run from those who think they've found it." - Deepak Chopra

It was Carl Sagan who said:
"Perhaps the depth of love can be calibrated by the number of different selves that are actively involved in a given relationship." - Carl Sagan

It was Sylvia Browne who said:
"We find that people today need to satisfy their intellect in addition to their beliefs when traditional religions do not address this issue." - Sylvia Browne

And it was Julia Sweeney who said:
"Happiness is a byproduct of having purpose and meaning; it isn't a goal." - Julia Sweeney

So it might be that when we listen to these points we bring in our emotional baggage of what we already think of the speaker - and that's fine. I mean we can't sit and analyse every point that a person's making and make sure that they are peer-reviewed on every single statement. We do tend to generalise based on that person's prior opinions and that's part of being a human being. It's not unreasonable to take that into account. But since we know this about ourselves, how can we use it to reach out to those who aren't already a part of our community?

Date: 2012-08-31 11:57 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] fatpie42.livejournal.com
So, let's think back to my homeopathy example. Once I'd given up homeopathy for good I started talking to people about it and I told pretty much anyone who would listen. So some people were completely shocked to hear what it was all about and they seemed to genuinely think they shouldn't buy it again. But a number of people just basically insulted me. They told me that I didn't believe in mystery anymore, or that I was a cynic, or that 'we just have to agree to disagree', and they far out-numbered the people who actually took me seriously. And I think that's because as I was reaching our to others, not so well, I'd completely forgotten what had persuaded me or maybe I didn't even know what had persuaded me.

So, who were the people who listened to me? Well my friend Claire listened. Claire is my best friend and as you can see from the photo (picture of Carrie and Claire with their arms over each others shoulders smiling for the photo) that it wasn't hard for her to consider me in-group. She knew about homeopathy actually. She had known since she was a child that homeopathy was made of these highly dilute substances in water and she just thought it worked anyway. That water had memory and that it could cure various ills. So what it took for her, was someone who was in-group, me, coming to her and saying "Well, look but Claire like, you know that I would love this to be true. I mean I've been taking homeopathy my whole life too and it would be great if this medicine that doesn't have any side-effects could do what it claims to do but, dude, did you see this James Rand-eye video? Like, it's NUTS!" She already considered me in-group, so it was very easy for her to take me seriously.

Now, here's someone who didn't listen to me about homeopathy. I don't want you to pick on her if you every find her on the street. What's interesting about her (i'll call her Lola). She is a genuinely sweet person, but she told me to "suck it". Because when she told me that she took homeopathy and that she was using it for allergies, I just didn't even think about it. I just started telling her like all the reasons that "homeopathy is bullshit. Okay, here we go", and I just started listing off point after point. Y'know "Do you know about 'like cures like'?" And just, y'know, giving her this long long list of scientific points. I didn't start from a baseline understanding of what her concerns were. I didn't show her I was in-group, that we shared our most basic worldviews, I just started talking, assuming that the facts would set her straight. And not only did she not buy it, but she told me that I clearly didn't care whether corporations manipulate people. I obviously don't care whether people get sick from medicine. I don't care about a long list of abuses committed in the name of scientific progress. And none of those things are true, but I can't blame Lola because I hadn't shown her that I was her people before I spoke. She didn't know that we shared common ground.

Date: 2012-08-31 11:57 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] fatpie42.livejournal.com
So, I do this podcast. It's called "Oh no! Ross and Carrie". *applause* Oh stop! Thanks. My co-host Ross Watcher and I, we investigate all sorts of unlikely sounding claims and we join fringe groups. And we generally put ourselves in the position of the new believer and see what happens behind closed doors. So, we have hung out with the kabbalists, Ross has gotten ear-candled (I refused), we hung out with the Sikhs, we got acupunctured, we've been hypnotised, we've overdosed on homeopathic medicine and then chased it with wine (that's how to sugar-crash btw), we've delved into Tarot, we joined the pan-Africans, we joined a couple of creationist groups, we had my dog psycho-analysed by a pet psychic, I did the master-cleanse, Ross had colon-hydrotherapy, we spent six months undercover becoming Mormons, and we spent five months under-cover becoming Raelians (a UFO cult). So our goal has always been to reach beyond the sceptical circle and of course, it's nice to appeal to sceptics and it's fun, but preaching to the choir can be just a nice way to make a lot of pretty masturbation music. So from the beginning we've asked ourselves what we could do to avoid being pegged as sceptics to believers. And we wanted to help believers and the sort of 'undeclared' to see us as their own in-group, which in a sense we are. We're both former believers. We both would be very happy to adopt these claims if they were true.

So here's what we tried. We don't call ourselves sceptics on the show. We never tell anyone that they're wrong. We just ask good questions and see what they have to say to defend their beliefs. And we emphasise our shared history instead of differences in our perceptions. And it works! So since we started the show which is only about 15 months ago now, we've heard from hundreds of listeners and lots of them are current believers or people leaving their beliefs. People are questioning what they were taught. And we also hear from people who are on the fence about unfounded claims and a lot of these people say "Well, I just don't get this anywhere else. Y'know, I talk to my believing friends and they just tell me to pray more" or, y'know, if they're into pseudoscience their friends tell them "well, what we do cannot be calibrated by the scientific method" and things like that. And we also hear from people who hate the show, of course, people who say we don't give them a fair shake. And that's fair. We have to at some point close the investigation and say what we think of it.

But it's clear from the feedback we're getting that the overwhelming response from believers is very positive. And it's interesting that so many people say "I don't get this anywhere else". I mean, how is it that no one is just gently talking to them about their beliefs? And I think, in a lot of our exchanges with believers, myself included, we tend to just give them this message "well I care about evidence and you don't seem to" and that just makes them tune out because they think "I do care about evidence, so obviously you don't understand me". Now of course I'm not making an argument against aggressive activism. I really believe that movements take all kinds of activists, but my clear plea here is that when we're talking to our friends and our colleagues one on one and we want to understand their point of view and for them to understand ours, that we consider that we're talking to human beings and that human beings are tribal animals, so we need to show one another how we are in their tribe.

Date: 2012-08-31 11:58 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] fatpie42.livejournal.com
So what do you do if you have nothing in common with the person you are talking to? Well I would suggest that you are not the person to outreach to that person and that's okay. There are other people who can do that. But if you are talking to someone and think "well, really I am just not on the same wavelength as you" and their feeling the same thing, they're not going to be able to hear your message. So you might just be digging yourself into a hole. Think how much it would take for you to take life advice from Sylvia Browne or Deepak Chopra. You know we all like to think 'well if they made their claims really well maybe I would', but it would be really difficult, right? And few of us have enough time to wade through each claim from beginning to end and make sure it's scientifically supported. So likewise, if someone sees you as functioning on a completely different wavelength from them, they're probably not going to listen to you. But if you can find that common ground. If you can find a place in yourself that agrees with them, then start there. So for me, now when I talk about homeopathy I say things like "yeah, I used to take that stuff. It was so reassuring to me that it had no side-effects. That it wasn't going to hurt me. It was completely natural. I totally understand why you prefer it. But hey, did you know? It's actually not very effective." And using those direct pleas of personal experience, it doesn't take the place of science but, knowing that personal experience is the primary way that people communicate, we ignore that at the expense of science.

Date: 2012-09-01 02:22 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] virginia-fell.livejournal.com
Whoa. You are so cool.

April 2016

S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
171819 20212223
24252627282930

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jun. 26th, 2017 05:26 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios