This weekend, the Global Health and Innovation Conference happens at Yale University. I’ll be presenting a session about promoting healthy attitudes and behaviours called Changing Minds. Whether encouraging people to eat better, think differently about pipelines and oil, speak up about depression and mental health, or increase personal savings, we’re all in the same business–the business of changing minds.
Philosopher Herbert Spencer said this: “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.” This is the crux of the challenge. Humans are complex—and notoriously hard to change. Most of us KNOW that we should eat more vegetables, get regular exercise, and meditate more. But most of us don’t. We keep doing things we KNOW we shouldn’t—and we DON’T do things we KNOW we should. If it’s your job to change attitudes and behaviours—congratulations—you may have one of the most challenging jobs in the history of mankind.
One of the biggest mistakes most persuaders make is that they talk to people’s heads rather than their hearts. They focus on facts, and logic, and knowledge. They problem is that logic makes people think—but emotion makes people act. So in order to change minds we have to also change hearts.
At the conference, I’ll be talking about a campaign called I Believe You that set out to change attitudes about a very challenging topic: sexual assault. We focused on changing the way responders—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, and family—respond to someone who has been sexually assaulted.
This is a big issue because sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes. In Canada, upwards of 97% of sexual assaults go unreported. Which means survivors don’t get help—and offenders keep offending—an average of six times before they’re caught.
The common theme among survivors is that they don’t tell because they’re not sure how people will respond. Mostly, they’re afraid they won’t be believed. According to our research, they have good reason to be afraid. Most people really don’t know what to say. They’re more likely to ask questions (are you sure, tell me what happened, you should go get help), rather than show empathy and compassion. (I’m sorry that happened, it’s not your fault, and I believe you).
If you want to see a survivor BURST into tears—in a good way—just tell them…I believe you. There is something incredibly powerful about those three words. So we called our campaign I believe you and set out to change people’s minds and hearts about the power of a positive response.
The number of people who would give a positive response to a survivor more than doubled—by over 108 percent—after our 8 week campaign. The number of people who would specifically use the phrase I believe you quadrupled–more than 400%. And the number of survivors who came forward during the campaign went up 53%. These are the results, but how did we achieve them? We did three things.
We’re all in the business of changing minds. Countless resources and energy are spent on awareness campaigns with questionable impact. We owe it to our organizations and communities to do more. If we want to change attitudes and behaviours, we need to change hearts as well as minds. That’s the way to ultimately change the world.