Change Happens at the Center

We tend to think of change as something that happens at the margins. That’s why people use phrases like “the leading edge,” or “pushing the envelope.” If we are deliberately acting to make social change, however, that change happens at the center. Experienced community organizers know this. It’s why they spend time with people in the middle. Let me illustrate how this works.

us vs themTake any issue; polarizing or mundane. We are led to believe that there are two sides: for and against; us and them; red state blue state; you get the picture. Painting this less complex picture is easier for both zealous advocates, and lazy reporters. It makes for good drama. When it comes to change, you will rarely get the people deeply rooted in the “them” side to flip 180 degrees to the “us” side (or vice-versa).

twoWe know for a fact that this is not a complete picture. There are many people who are, in fact, neutral. They may simply be unaware of an issue. They may be conflicted and ambivalent,  or they could just be apathetic.

threeThere are also individuals who are passive in their support for us, and people who passively support them. The people in this category fall in a continuum of varying levels of commitment as well.

fourThe key to creating the change that you want to happen, is to spend less time where there is little return on the investment of your time — hurling verbal bombs at the folks who will never change their minds. What you want to focus on is moving people over just one position on the chart, beginning with the people who passively support your cause. The smallest of things can move pieces of the middle.

People’s personal experience guides their opinions. Their experience also defines their self-interest. If you understand this , and organize around this principle, eventually, a tipping point of sorts makes the movement toward change unstoppable.

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