If we want LRT to work in thic city, someone is going to have to take the first step to address the fear through meaningful dialogue.
By Jason Allen
Published February 04, 2010
So I'm listening to the audiobook of Seth Godin's latest effort, Lynchpin. It has all sorts of interesting things to say about the nature of work and art, but the part that appealed to me the most was his discussion of what he calls 'the resistance'.
The resistance, is basically the part of your brain Dr.s call the Amygdala – or as some call it, the Lizard Brain. The Lizard brain is the second most primitive part of your central nervous system, and it only has a few concerns: Eating, Not being eaten, making more lizards (or whatever species it might be), anger, revenge, lust, things like that.
In other words, all of the baser emotions that 'civilized' people know they have, but try and deny.
So when you are in a situation with an otherwise rational person, and suddenly they go Crazy Ivan, chances are that their Lizard Brain feels threatened. You have (however inadvertantly) threatened their ability to eat, reproduce, or avoid becoming prey. The threat itself may have come just from suggesting they do something differently. And such threats make people cranky.
Which brings us to the rather odd debate playing out in the local newspaper about the potential implementation of an LRT line across the centre of the city.
The pro-LRT side has lined up on one side of the debate citing grand and glorious future benefits – greater investment in downtown, greater pedestrian activity, a greater sense of community – all good things. But in and of themselves, good things down the road sometime. In some not-too-distant, but totally unquantifiable future, things will be made immeasurably better by the LRT.
So of course, on the other side of the debate, the Lizard Brains of the various opponents are doing their collective nut. Letters and comments in the Spectator recently revealed a terrified, highly vocal group of business owners downtown who thinking with their Amygdalas. And when animals get cornered, they strike.
Simply put, they say the LRT will not work – because it's not what we have now. It's new, it's different, it's gasp unproven! The whole concept of an LRT track running through the downtown has made them feel threatened in their ability to eat, or not be eaten (in a figurative, competetive sense) – and they are lashing out.
The reality is that the PRO-LRT side has done what most groups do when opposing bald faced NIMBYism. They have responded with facts and arguments and reams of data supporting their argument. “Look at Portland! Look at Calgary! Look at all of this data proving how many more people will use it!”
What has not happened is any head-on effort to address the basic emotion in play here: Naked Fear.
This situation may stem from a common misunderstanding about how people make decisions. Most people think that decisions are reached after a careful analysis of the facts.
Nothing could be further from the truth. People decide things based on 'gut reaction', and then spend enormous amounts of time and energy coming up with facts and figures to justify their decision.
As a result, they cannot be swayed by facts, not matter how compelling. Don't believe me? Go out right now and try and change someone's mind about abortion or capital punishment. Go on. I'll wait.
There. Futile, wasn't it? You had all the arguments, all the data, all the facts. And they were irrelevant, because they didn't address the emotion.
Well, the first thing they teach you in customer service school about dealing with an angry (or in this case fearful) customer, is acknowledge the emotion head on (if a customer service representative has ever told you, "I understand why you are upset...now let me see how I can help you..." then they are doing what they were trained to do).
Next, we need to enter into an honest dialogue about what is causing the fear and how to resolve it. That means not devolving into name calling and pointing fingers – even if the other side started it.
That probably means the Chairperson of a Pro-LRT group inviting the Downtown BIA to a meeting to discuss issues and concerns in a respectful, non-confrontational way. If we want LRT to work in thic city, someone is going to have to take the first step to address the fear through meaningful dialogue.
Those of us who want change have the most to lose from things staying the same – and keeping the status quo is much easier to do than making meaningful change. We're the ones with the heavy lifting to do - we need to be the ones who extend the olive branch.
Dialogue is the most basic building block of community. Face to face, real time dialogue. Not through twitter, or emails, or Raise the Hammer, or the Spectator; but real people sitting across the table (preferably with food involved) to discover that in the end they really want mostly the same things - a better city for everyone.
this article was originally published on Jason's blog.
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