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 Use Your Brain, not Your Heart.


You know things have gone awry when some “friends” respond with venom and hostility to your sharing a New Yorker joke on Facebook; here’s the culprit:

new yorker vegan birthday

How people condemn practices, ideologies, companies or other people, or promote worthy causes can be bewildering. It could be amusing if it weren’t dead serious. Methods employed range from totally out-of-control verbal abuse to well thought-out propositions that dangerously sound like the perfect truth. Targets abound, but these days the focus is on renewable energy or sustainable everything, eating habits and the respect of animal rights.

Most of the exchanges – especially on animal rights and diets – have decidedly emotional undertones. Gruesome pictures, petitions, cute videos, all are part of the verbal and visual repertoire disseminated in the press and social media. On the latter, the use of language is often abominable, with a level of vehemence and, frankly, rudeness that makes the reader blush without even participating. Some go as far as insulting entire nations or cultures, using expletives followed by long series of exclamation points, and exuding such passion (or ignorance) the readers or listeners will be forgiven if the terms “split personality” or “bipolar disorder” appear uninvited in their heads. 

Virtually all these utterances lack a committed and thoughtful approach on how to move forward. Screaming at your opponent or target group is never a good strategy. It betrays emotion and insecurity. What we need is a broadening of the discussion, a calming of the spirits and a level of respect for the “opposing” camp so that solutions on how we get from point A to point B can be envisaged. Solutions that must include very practical implementation ideas on how to deal with the complex repercussions involved.

Speaking of pragmatism, recent news items in related but distinct fields offer other examples of popular but ineffective demeanor: major institutional and national investors’ enthusiasm in shedding shares of “non-sustainable” companies, the troubles Google is having in Europe, the blocking of innovations like Uber. Independently of what the purpose is, the methods don’t seem very logical or even useful to the population at large: ExxonMobil will not change their business model because of a few stock sales (look at returns provided by cigarettes makers); forcing Google to “delete” unwanted historical details or blocking Uber from operating are simply bad ideas for consumers (in the first case because you simply shut the search engine and not the information itself which is stored in news organizations’ archives, and in the second because you force people to pay more).

The way forward has to be innovation and investment in appropriate solutions. If you create new ways of accessing the energy we need (for living, moving and working), today’s energy companies will either adapt or die. It is changing the paradigm and operating environment that will force progress, not attacking indiscriminately the status quo.

Listen to Bill Gates (in today’s FT article); or enjoy 29 minutes of semi-comic relief with Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side.


Photo sources: fastcoexist.com; newyorker.com.