Know Your Audience

We all depend upon water to drink, food to eat, air to breathe. We are connected in a multitude of ways to the warp and weft of our planet’s systems. So, it continues to perplex and frustrate me when I see environmental issues being divided along partisan lines. What’s up? If it’s in everyone’s best interest to protect the environment, why are so many people ambivalent or even against it?

I believe there are a number of factors at play. Certainly there is a portion of the population who would rather go about their business as usual and remain ignorant of the issues. The planet’s environmental challenges are so complex and overwhelming that it’s not surprising some people choose not to deal with them. Politicians, past and present, use environmental issues as a tactic to stir up public opinion, for or against an issue. It’s particularly convenient to take an anti-environmental stance that supports people’s existing habits and doesn’t challenge the status quo. Despite this, it’s still in everyone’s interest that we learn to live sustainably upon this earth, and  that means we must protect the environment.

So the question  becomes this: How do we communicate with a vast number of people who possess widely divergent values and world views on an issue about which we should all agree?

The answer is this: know your audience.

Not too long ago, Shalom Schwartz devised a model to illustrates  the ten primary human values. We call it the Schwartz Model of Universal Values. It looks like this:

By using Schwartz’s diagram as a visual depiction of the range of values that affect humans’ decision making, I can attempt to see environmental issues through differing values lens.

For example, I might try to predict what message would appeal to people who crave security and apply that to the issue of the oil sands: To maintain the security of our country, it’s important that we protect our sovereignty. If we wish to maintain our sovereignty, we shouldn’t be sacrificing the long-term viability of a valuable resource like the oil sands to make a quick buck. We should be devising a comprehensive energy strategy that guarantees the long-term prosperity of our country and allows us to be energy independent.

 In the same way, I could predict the message that would resonate most with people who value achievement and success: We are a powerful and prosperous country, but if we want our country to be relevant on the international stage, we must employ cutting edge technology and become a world leader in sustainable energy solutions.

Schwartz’s Model of Universal Values is a valuable tool for communicating and empathizing with a variety of audiences.


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