Aligning values to language

February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

A recent report, Common Cause (, analyses the comparative failure of environmental campaigning over recent years to convince people of the need for individual behavioural change.

The language of climate campaigning has often been apocalyptic – of threat, disaster, “if we don’t take action…”. Paradoxically this calls from most people a response contrary to what is required: to listen, to learn, to engage and explore, to act. This same apocalyptic language was used by GWB after 9/11, engendering just the public response that the government and military needed.

I drew up the following lists of words:

Fear                      Hope

Should                  Could

Disaster                Opportunity

Doomed                Freedom

Magnitude             Connection, community

Guilt                      Well-being

Material loss          Happiness, spiritual gain

Save the world      Take a step

Getting it wrong    Learning

Campaign              Engage

Lobby                    Take part

Manipulate            Inspire

Educate                Participate

Advertising            Developing

Global picture        Local action

My understanding from Common Cause is that when the green movement uses the left hand column, the appeal is to extrinsic values – “values that are contingent upon the perceptions of others. They relate to envy of ‘higher’ social status, admiration of material wealth, or power.”

The intrinsic values, the value placed on a sense of community, self-development and affiliation to friends and family, are inspired by the words on the right. Common Cause argues that we need people to bring their intrinsic values when responding to the bigger-than-self problems which face us. “Bigger-than-self” problems are those beyond either an individual’s self-interest to address, or beyond their ability to influence. Poverty, climate change and loss of biodiversity are classic examples of bigger-than-self problems.

My questions are:

Is it true that there is a link between an appeal to intrinsic values, and a corresponding change in behaviour and attitudes?

Will the right-hand list work if used in organisations that are wanting to adopt globally responsible practice?

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