Remarks by Faculty Director Andy Hoffman at the 2014 Erb Institute Holiday Gathering
I’d like to start with a vignette. I play in a casual summer golf league that is as much about beer drinking banter as it is about hitting a golf ball. We don’t generally talk about work. But one day Greg, a fellow golfer, asked me, “Hey Andy, what do you do for a living anyway?” I told him that I was a professor and that I studied environmental issues. He asked, “Do you mean like climate change? That’s not real, is it?” I told him that the science was quite compelling and that the issue was real. His next question was, “are you a Democrat or Republican?” I told him that I was an independent. He replied, “So what do you think about Al Gore?” I told him that I thought Al Gore had called needed attention to the issue but that he unfortunately also helped to polarize it as a partisan issue.
I think about that conversation often. Greg was not challenging my ideas, he was questioning my motives. He was trying to find out if he could trust me enough to listen to what I had to say, to figure out if I was part of his cultural community, his tribe. And I can imagine the hesitation he may have had in broaching this topic. Might I get condescending and give him a science lecture, challenging his lack of deep knowledge on the issue while asserting my own? Or, would I begin to judge him and his lifestyle, critiquing his choice of car, house, vacation habits or any one of the multitude of “unsustainable” activities that we all undertake? Or, might I begin to pontificate on the politics of the issue, complaining of the partisan split on the issue and the corporate influence on our political system? These are all plausible and unpleasant scenarios that lead people to avoid this topic.
These conversations come up enough—you’ve probably had one—that it is worth asking: What are we trying to get out of these discussions? Are we trying to change “heart and minds” or are we trying to make a point? Do we want to allow them a face saving way to come to their own conclusions or do we want to win, forcing them into acquiesce? In short, what is your theory of change?
This is a question we all have to ask ourselves. While you are learning about the work that needs to be done to bring about a sustainable world, you also have to learn about how to help people to change the way they think. Continue reading