The content is not the only thing that matters in messages. Who delivers it, how, and when we receive it plays a role in us believing or not believing the new information. How much does the messenger have the power to have an influence on our attitude? That depends on our knowledge, background, and personality. Our capability to listen, understand, and adapt does matter too. What got me thinking about this? Greta Thunberg and social media.
I guess many of us have heard about Greta Thunberg. The young Swedish environmental activist with Asperger. She started a phenomenon called “School strike for climate” (Skolstrejk för klimatet) to send a message to governments. The strike took place on Fridays. Her message was that adults are destroying children’s future by not trying to fix the environmental crisis. She talked about the empty promises and greediness and demanded that the governments take action. Greta got supporters – mostly young people – around the world. She speaks to leaders with passion, shows her emotions, and walks her talk. While traveling to New York City to meet the world leaders in the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, Greta sailed instead of taking a flight. She says that she cannot ask other people to do something that she is not ready to do.
The document “I am Greta” was filmed when Greta was 15-17 years old, beginning from her first strike day. I noticed Hulu advertising it on FaceBook and started to read the comments. I got upset – could not believe what I read. Of course, I had noticed how some of the world leaders had made comments about her. And I had seen some commenting in public but what I now saw was really disturbing. Rude, sexists, belittling, and pathetic. Most of the mean commentators were men and remarkably older than Greta. They evaluate her personality, looks, and message. Where do these comments and this hostile attitude come from, and why?
It hurts, of course
Believing in climate change is scary because that reality makes us feel vulnerable. Understanding the threat and the consequences get us to realize that we need to change. Often, we think that the required changes are not fun. Some people see that those changes would be a threat to their freedom. So they lift the curtain of denial to protect their minds, rights, and realities. And then… There is this girl who talks about that threat. And she does not even try to be lovely and humble like girls “should” be. She is smaller and younger than them – and different (people called her handicapped and retarded). How does she dare to tell them that we adults have let the next generation down and destroyed the world?
I am glad she dares.
We need Gretas. We also need something different.
Greta’s style works for many people. In some, it creates resistance, but it is not her fault. It is just how people are and it is the case with any messenger. Where the bullies see a threat and weakness, many others see inspiration in Greta’s courage, uniqueness, honesty, and wisdom. She is a trigger that gets people to think. She spreads awareness that is the key to possibilities and action. People follow, some loudly, others more silently on the background – but the movement is growing.
When we talk about this environmental crisis around us, the only purpose is not to teach or convince people. Those methods do not work for everyone – and we are not all teachers. Instead, we need to grow awareness, get listeners and readers to think, get interested and search for more. We people come from diverse cultures with various backgrounds and have unique ways to observe the world. When we share information for a meaningful cause, we need different kinds of messengers spreading the word. Most people have a need to be able to relate somehow – with the story or the teller. That helps them to lower their shields – stop defending and attacking.
So we need people like Greta, and we need many others. The wider the variety of the messengers we have, the more relatable our message becomes. And that is what our planet and future generations need.