If the right message is delivered by the wrong messenger, it probably won’t get through. Even worse, the wrong messenger can make people who were neutral on an issue into hostile critics.
Using the wrong messenger may be worse than using no messenger at all.
That’s the finding of a study on the Golden Rule done in October at the University of Virginia.
For Christians, the Golden Rule is the right message, especially when you remind them that it came from Jesus. For example, Matthew 7:2: “For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured unto you.”
Jesus or the Buddha?
In the study, Christians who heard that the Golden Rule came from Jesus showed more positive attitudes towards gays and lesbians.
But when researchers read the Golden Rule to other self-identified Christians but then attributed the Golden Rule to the Buddha, those Christians reacted in the opposite way.
As researcher Nicole M. Lindner explained:
“What we found is that even positive messages of tolerance could, in fact, produce greater bias if it comes from an out-group’s leader, and therefore perceived as being critical rather than as being positive when coming from one’s own religious leader.”
Of course, the study’s implications go beyond the issue of tolerance for gay people. Like all the work of an organization associated with the research—Project Implicit at Harvard—this study showed that we all use powerful mental frames that unconsciously shape our perceptions of the world, a view also held by the Transition movement and covered in its training programs.
Now, we probably don’t need Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck to start advocating for clean energy.
But what does this study mean for people who want to build broad public support for action on global warming and peak oil?
That a professional skier or sledder is a better spokesperson for climate action than Al Gore.
That Warren Buffett would be a better messenger on peak oil than a petroleum geologist.
That Martha Stewart might be an appealing public face for Transition and resilient living.
Preaching to the converted will only get us so far. In-clubs feel great, but they don’t necessarily change the world. If what peak oil and climate activists really want is results, for more folks to “get” it and act on it, what should we do? Thoughts?