Lining Clouds With Silver

Every day we are bombarded with people trying to make us take an interest in their messages and jump on their bandwagon. But what is it that makes us sit up and listen to a certain campaign? When I began trying to spread antibiotic awareness last year I mercilessly went down the route of trying to scare people into listening to me, painting a bleak picture of a future without antibiotics if people did nothing about the problem. At the time, it seemed the only way because antibiotic resistance is slightly depressing but now I’m not surprised that no one listened to me! Who wants to know about a subject that only seems to be about doom and gloom? Not me and certainly not the public! It’s occurred to me that there are so many campaigns based on trying to make us feel deeply emotional that they all seem to blur into one large black whole of sadness.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to notice or discover that happiness is key all by myself. I had a helpful prod in the form of Dr Sue Pilans who featured on a SciComm podcast hosted by Dr Karen Ring and Dr Mike. Apart from being a fantastically upbeat and inspirational lady, her main message was to remain hopeful and spread messages through ‘positive story-telling’. It was then that I realised the huge errors I had made in the way that I’ve talked about antibiotic resistance in the past. These errors were not, however, unforced. I’m not pointing fingers but all the facts and figures I found on antibiotic resistance were very depressing and I found it hard to get out of the downward spiral that lead to an antibiotic apocalypse.

As a wannabe scicommer I’m glad I’ve learnt that positivity is key before my real career has begun. It seems such a simple lesson to learn but one that a lot of people forget about. Perhaps it’s a common misconception that sadness and anger ignites something in us quicker than happiness and hope, but I’m no psychologist. I feel that despite sadness and anger hitting us harder, happiness and hope stay with us for longer. Again, don’t quote me because I could be very wrong.

I won’t pin up any examples of campaigns or charities that are all about doom and gloom because you will no doubt be able to think of a few on your own. Of course, all charities are deserving of our funds and there are some situations that are getting worse rather than better, making it especially difficult to summon any stories of hope. If the saying that every cloud has a silver lining is true though, there should be at least one glimmer of hope in every mournful situation, shouldn’t there?

It’s not just sad stories that I’ve realised make people switch off, there is also the problem of people ranting. I am no angel and I do like a good rant; you will probably find a few on this blogsite like ‘Slightly OTT.’ But recently I’ve tried to think about both sides and have an argument with myself instead (a tad weird?). Yes, some people’s rants are amusing and do convey their message very effectively but I’ve noticed that when a group of people that should change their ways is targeted by these rants, it makes them more defiant and they stick to their ways with duct tape instead of pritstick. I’ll use an example of when I have fallen victim to this faux pas but before I do, please excuse the references to me campaigning about antibiotic resistance; it’s all I have at the moment.

I used to wrongly refer to people who used antibiotics for their colds as stupid. I know, horror of horrors, but as a science student, I know that this won’t do anything for a cold because I’ve spent three years learning about it! That person who did use antibiotics for their viral infection may be perfectly intelligent but somewhere down the line they have been misinformed and see antibiotics as a miracle ‘cure- all’. Reversing this misconception without pointing fingers is a challenge and it’s so easy to go in with all guns blazing! I’ve now realised that this approach will only make them put up more bullet proof glass that they can’t hear me through! No wonder some people don’t listen to scientists if all we do is make them feel bad for their mistakes!

I know that all this may seem like a simple concept and throughout this wall of words you’ll be repeating ‘how does she not know this? I was there with this idea from the start!’ over and over in your head. Just think though, I’ve been brought up on charities raising millions of pounds in one night through doom and gloom stories, so why would this seem like such a bad idea to me?!

If you want to listen to the podcast on Dr Mike’s website that caused this epiphany in my brain, click here.

Make sure you check out Dr Karen Ring  and Dr Sue Pilans too!

2 thoughts on “Lining Clouds With Silver

  1. Rose Hendricks says:

    This is interesting – thanks for posting! I started to think about other science messages that are unfortunately controversial today and wondered how positive story-telling might relate. For example, maybe one reason climate change communications haven’t been nearly as effective as many had hoped is that they often emphasize the terrible things that are happening in the world now and how much worse they’re going to get. It sucks to think about.

    The anti-vaccine movement is a little messier. It’s unclear to me how effective scientists’ appeals to fear (look at these terrible diseases that unvaccinated kids can get!) have been. There’s also an appeal to fear on the anti-vax side (look at these terrible potential side effects!). Plus of course many other arguments on each side, but harder to see how appealing to fear works/doesn’t work for each side.

    I’d love to learn more about this involvement of fear in communicating different issues. Do you have any thoughts about when it works? And why it does in some cases but not others?

    Liked by 1 person

    • A Muddled Student says:

      I think it works when it’s things to do with humanitarian crisis’ for example after a natural disaster, famine etc because it relates directly to humans and no one wants to see anyone suffering. I think if you can imagine it happening to you, for example, you know that when you’re hungry or thirsty it doesn’t feel great. Magnifying that feeling 1000 fold in terms of imagining what it must be like to be starving is easier than imagining what it would be like to have a disease that is antibiotic resistant.

      Also, the fact that people can physically see the effects of famine and natural disasters on their TVs etc helps because they can see how awful it is without people having to describe it to them. With issues such as antibiotic resistance people can’t see it happening so they have no emotional attachment to a person in a different country that died from an antibiotic resistant bug.

      I hope these limited examples answer your question! Thank you for commenting and sharing your views!


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