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Communicating hope: Lessons from our webinar with More in Common

Hope. For many of us, over the course of the pandemic, it’s been in fairly short supply.

Our increasingly interconnected world means that distressing images from halfway across the world are beamed onto our phones, computers and TV screens. Whether it’s the fallout from climate change, political instability or what feels like a neverending pandemic, simply switching on the news has become a threat to our immediate wellbeing. I’ve heard an increasing number of people say, ‘Oh you watch the news? Why on earth would you do that?’.

But it’s not just the news that can affect our hope. We now live much of our lives online, on social media, in what academics might refer to as a polluted information environment, where we are overloaded and overwhelmed by information of varying quality. This kind of information overload can produce – among other things – feelings of despair, anxiety and depression.

At this critical juncture in human history, with global threats like climate change and pandemics, it feels as though we don’t have time for the paralysing force of despair. 

Fighting despair was the subject of our Misinformation Cell webinar on January 31 – ‘Communicating hope’ – where we spoke to Conleth Burns from More in Common about the work they’re doing to understand how we can cut through the hopelessness with messages of hope.

The conversation was based on their latest report – The Endless Sea – where they chart a course for communicators looking to galvanise their audiences with messages of hope. Here are some of the key takeaways from our webinar and from their report:

  • The key group to mobilising action is the ‘Invisibles’. This is a group of people who feel ignored by the political ‘elite’, are most likely to vote for Brexit and Trump, and are most open to authoritarianism. Channeling this group is important for anyone looking to protect democracy or creating consensus around change.
  • Change needs to be fun. Fun has been weaponised by conspiracy theorist groups like Qanon, who make a show of holding raucous rallies. Communal events fill our desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves and allow us to ‘shake off that sense of inevitability’.
  • Imagining the future is easier if you can touch it. Giving a sense of tangibility to a different future provides the energy required to mobilise the masses to fight for it. Physical space can help demonstrate the opportunities for a better life which lie ahead (e.g. pedestrianisation and regeneration in service of reducing emissions).
  • Not following the rules can be a good thing. Greta Thunberg’s school strike wouldn’t have made an impact if she’d taken her Saturday to protest. Sometimes, by transgressing we can draw attention to the seriousness of the change we are fighting for. In the words of Saint Augustine, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are”.
  • Change makers need to feel like the main character. We live in an age of selfies and social media where users are encouraged to see themselves as protagonists in their own story. An effective movement will harness this powerful desire for agency by helping supporters answer the question, “What is my role in this story?”.
  • Change needs trusted (and ‘ordinary’) messengers. We know this from behavioural science – the science of social proof shows us that the people around us often have a greater influence on our decisions than more remote messengers.
  • Leading change means being vulnerable. The world is hungry for a new type of leadership, one that can build bridges – not divide people. To build bridges our leaders need to be able display empathy and vulnerability, traits that have been lacking from our male-dominated global political apparatus.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss our next webinar, you can get advance access to tickets by signing up to our Misinformation Cell Mailing List.

This article was written by Stefan Rollnick, Head of Misinformation Cell at Lynn.

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