4 Principles for creating positive social change, Dr Niki Harre

This article featured in The Kiwi Diary 2013, and is one of my all time favourites.  Author Dr Niki Harre is an Associate Professor of Psychology, and Associate Dean of Sustainability at Auckland University. In 2009 she received a university award for sustained excellence in teaching.

1.    Use the winds of change

The kuaka or godwit is a bird that flies from the Arctic Circle to New Zealand every year. This is a distance of over 11,000 kilometers and it makes the trip without stopping. How does it do it? First it eats a lot, so it is strong and well nourished. Then it waits for the tail winds to propel it on its journey. Principle number one is to do social change like a kuaka. Build resources and networks and then look for opportunities. If possible, ignore barriers and people who will not listen. Move around resistance rather than confronting it. This will allow you to make the most of your strengths as an individual or group.    

2.    People are happiness seekers

Notice how moths fly around a flame. People are similarly attracted to happiness. We want it, we seek it, and when we’ve found it we stick around. Principle number two is to understand that people will be attracted to activities that make them feel good. They will shy away from those that make them feel threatened, bored, lonely, or fearful. Not only that, but positive emotions prompt creativity, cooperation and openness to change, exactly what we need to bring about new ways of living. Think of a ratio of at least three positive messages to every negative message. 

3.    People copy each other

People are natural imitators. The simplest explanation for why we replicate a way of life that has passed its use-by date is because of our tendency to copy each other in an endless cycle. Principle number three is to step outside the cycle. Demonstrate new ways to be a person. Ride your bike and leave it somewhere visible. Carry a reusable coffee cup. Work with others in your organisation to enable and highlight innovative practices that will
be part of a flourishing future. 

4.    People want to be good

One of the great myths about people is that we are mostly selfish. It is more true to say we are mostly cooperative. Look at the great feats of cooperation that have produced our industrialised, globalised world.  People have a strong sense of fairness and a desire to protect innocent others. Principle number four is to work with these values. Trust that your fellow citizens want to leave a world in which future generations can thrive. Speak and act from the heart and people will want to join you. 

 

What to know more? Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability is a book and short film for people interested in positive social change. www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/psychologyforabetterworld.