Today I am thinking about influence and propaganda.
I had a really good conversation with my friend Gorm about “social campaigns“. We studied social campaigns briefly in the communications course I recently took and although I did not have time to really dive deeply into the ramifications of it, I had warring thoughts in my mind about the rightness of them….
In case your scratching your head about what I mean exactly, I’ll give you smoking for an example. In the US we have had some kind of campaign or another since I was quite young concerning cigarette smoking. While I don’t believe it’s healthy or wise to smoke cigarettes, I do see that there are definitely elements of propaganda in many of these campaigns. Everyone will agree that it is bad for your health to smoke cigarettes but part of the reason I have trouble with these campaigns is that they make comparisons that are just not true. Many of the stop smoking commercials or ads link smoking to immediate death… 100% immediate death.
On the other hand, smoking is bad for your health and there are now WAY fewer smokers in the US than in most countries who have not had this particular campaign going on for so long.
So the campaign works and because of it, many people have a better sense of smell, they themselves smell better- they breath oxygen more efficiently and as a result do a lot of other things better, like running or playing with their kids. They are also a bit less likely to die of some form of cancer although not smoking will not ensure that they don’t die.
But we want a better world right? We want AIDS eradicated and the dehumanizing effects of poverty minimized. We want human trafficking to be a myth of the past and genocide eliminated.
Unfortunately, being totally factual in social campaigns would be much less effective. You can tell people that unprotected sex leads to getting AIDS and that smoking cigarettes may give them cancer when they’re in their 50’s and will certainly cause food to taste slightly less delicious right now but this will not change a lot of other things that are holding them to the activity that is bad for them. Often unless one of these harmful things impacts them directly through someone they love, they will not change their behavior.
In other cases, they will still believe really inaccurate things about cause and effect and in these cases even knowing someone who has died of AIDS may not keep them from having unprotected sex because they don’t believe it’s about their actions as much as it’s about some spirit that curses people…. Taking the control, and the responsibility out of their hands.
Which leads us back to exaggerations and scare tactics, right?
At this point in the conversation Gorm mentioned something about having loved ones who are drug addicts – what is more loving, telling them the truth about how you feel and letting them choose their own destruction or doing something to force the choice out of their hands? This is not hypothetical for many people, but an immediate and horrible reality.
I thought of having a kid who is in many ways a good kid- makes healthy decisions, is nice to others, cares about his family- say that kid makes friends with another kid who is a really bad influence. That bad influence kid steers your good kid into all kinds of bad behavior- stealing, lying, drugs. Do you keep your son from being friends with this kid who is being a bad influence?
What do you really want for your kid? If you just ban them from hanging out with this bad influence you may not only damage your relationship with them (thus your influence) but they also might not actually understand why you’ve been so mean and controlling.
This is when a little light went off in my head.
What if you didn’t ban your kid from hanging out with this other kid? What if you let them experience the consequences of their actions but at the same time, you started talking with them about the unhealthy activities… talking with them in a way that allows them to see the truth for themselves? I’m not talking about having arguments, but real, loving conversations wherein your respect for not only your child’s humanity, but the humanity of this other kid are evident.
I think that social campaigns can be quite effective. But the Nazis used them, too to influence society.
How can we love the people around us in a way that leads them to making right choices for themselves and others?
It’s messy. It’s hard. I keep losing heart and hope but I ache to express this very thing with my life. I deeply believe that Jesus is part of this equation…
What do you think? What are we missing and what can we do better?