Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela
I was speaking with a friend the other day and we were talking about children and how to relate to them.
A couple of decades ago your parents, our parents, didn’t really have much training before they had children.
They worked things out through a mix of folklore and advice from those around us – advice that came from memory rather than from knowledge.
Now, you and I have no such excuses.
We live in the world of the Internet, where there is information everywhere and advice on anything, if you choose to look.
And one of the perennial problems we have is getting things to change – things that we believe are not working as they should.
Some of the earliest work in this field is by Chin and Benne who came up with three basic ways to change things in systems that involve humans – social systems.
The first way is what is called rational empirical.
This supposes that if you and I sit down and you explain all the reasons why I should change what I’m doing then I will listen to you and change my ways.
I take it you’ve had a go at that with kids at some point.
The second way is called power coercive and it has to do with using power to get your own way – forcing it through because you have authority or the ability to get what you want done.
That’s probably been something you’ve tried as well.
And these two approaches are just as widely used when it comes to organisations, societies and governments.
The rational approach assumes that if you put the science behind something in front of people they’ll make the right choices.
If you know that smoking harms your body and if the information is on the packaging then the rational thing to do is stop smoking.
Information and the dissemination of information is the way that the rational way makes things change for the better.
The equivalent of the power coercive approach is laws and regulation and policy – the things that try and set out what you should do and what will happen if you don’t comply.
So, you have rules on where you can smoke, for example.
You have laws that legislate for clean air or waste management – where you want people to literally clean up their act.
But then under the same umbrella you have opposition and protest, trying to get politicians to put forward your ideas through lobbying or using direct action to make your case.
Then you have a third way – the normative re-educative way.
This approach relies on you taking a walk, a journey with other people and examining what they think.
You try and look at things from their point of view and reflect back what you hear.
What you’re looking for is an experience where the right way emerges from the social interaction with others – where you start to listen, understand, compromise and change.
Now, all these ways can lead to change happening, although it isn’t always clear whether the change is because of the way that was used.
You have examples of this in books like Freakonomics – where a mayor might assume that the drop in crime during their tenure was because of their strict policies and investment in the numbers of police officers on the street.
It turned out, however, that the drop might have actually been because abortion was legalised and many people that might have been born into poverty and eventually become criminals were never born in the first place.
You might have heard the phrase “poor boys go to prison, poor girls get pregnant.”
So, it’s not always clear where change comes from.
This model is also old and should be used just as a starting point.
None of these ways will probably work in a real life situation if used in isolation.
In real life you probably need good reasons to do something, you need to be in a position where you can make some progress and you need to be willing to put the time into taking people along with you, and even examining some of your own thoughts along the way.
The point really is that change takes time – and learning, from others and by you.
So, if you are going to spend your life working on changing something – make it something you really care about.
Because it’s not going to be easy or quick.
And it may not happen in your lifetime.
And make sure that when it’s all pored over many years from now you’re on the right side of history.