In a human rights movement dedicated to reporting abuse, positive communication does not come easily. But to claim human rights, we cannot depend on the fear of returning to a dark past, we have to promise a brighter future.
Hope is a pragmatic strategy, informed by history, communication experts?
organizers, neuroscience, and cognitive linguistics. It can be applied to each
the strategy of the campaign. By basing your messages on the values, you defend
and the vision of the world that you want to realize, communication-based on
hope is an antidote to debates that always seem to have a frame that favors
your opponent’s so that you can design actions to set the agenda instead of
constantly reacting to external events.
A hope-based communication strategy involves making five basic changes to the way
we talk about human rights.
Talk about solutions, not problems.
Although the human rights movement will always have to report abuses, we also have to
show how to solve them. Positive communication is about talking about what we
want to see, and not just what other people are doing. For leaders, it is much
more difficult to justify not addressing problems than not implementing
The danger of focusing all our attention on the most serious crises is that people
get used to it. When we focus on the problem, we reinforce it in the minds of
our audience. We need to convince people that a different world is possible.
Visionary ideas change the world and the people who propose them set the agenda
rather than being defensive. For example, campaigns against austerity measures
are unlikely to get policymakers to change the way they act unless they
advocate for a viable alternative, be it increased public investment or
thought-provoking initiatives such as the Universal Basic Income.
The environmental movement made this change when it realized that stories of
impending tragedy generated discouragement rather than urgency. The LGBT
the movement moved from anti-discrimination campaigns to shared values by focusing
on one of many possible political solutions: equal marriage, a call rooted in
love and compassion that everyone could relate to. If we want something to
change, it is not enough to say “no” to the problem; instead, we must give
governments something to say “yes” to by proposing bold policies, smart human
rights solutions that spark debate, and showing what the desired transformation
will achieve. Indeed, in the darkest crisis, we can always target the first
the step towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
Highlight what we support, not what we oppose.
The human rights movement must show that human rights are a practical application
of shared universal values such as compassion, solidarity, and dignity,
instead of defining rights based on the absence of their violations (“a world
without torture”, “Protection against damage”).
The movement’s favorite expression today is “not a crime.” Journalism is
not a crime. Refugees are not criminals. This fuses the concepts of crime and
human rights in the minds of our audience, inviting a debate on whether
journalists are criminals or not. Human rights defenders generally do this
because we believe that it is enough to raise awareness, that just by telling
people that journalists are being treated as criminals, we will provoke outrage
and shame. Instead of denouncing and shaming, we need to name and frame. We
have to ask what we want to see and explain in detail the shared values that
are at stake.
Talk about the policies you want, explain how the government could achieve them, and
explain what values it would be adhering to if it implemented them. Tell
stories that strengthen our way of seeing the world without having to speak
directly about the issues we work with at all times.
When human rights organizations speak of values, they tend to justify human rights
based on national values. Simply to discover things that unite people around the cause
of human rights, we must look beyond narrow national frameworks. If in the
human rights movement we stopped speaking within the frameworks used by our
opponents (security, economy, or other national interests), what narrative
would we switch to? What is the ideal framework for human rights?
The human rights movement needs a new narrative. Today we work in isolated thematic
compartments, addressing the rights one by one depending on the specific
background of each case. Consequently, wider audiences understand human rights
as something that protects us, to which we are “entitled”, rather than
something that we can all use to make things better. We tend to visualize what
we are against, not in favor: hands holding bars illustrate injustice, but what
does justice look like?
Instead, we must talk about a common and universal worldview, a society in which people
take care of each other. A common vision of the world that we can strengthen in
the minds of the public day by day, from story to story, from tweet to tweet.
Create Opportunities, Drop Threats.
When we talk about solutions, we give people the opportunity to contribute to making things better, rather than using blame or threats to get them to act.
We want to display the knowledge of being part of the human rights movement. When we speak of human rights as a protection against harm, our implicit message is based on fear and self-interest. These could be your rights. Imagine being stripped of your rights. One day it could happen to you.
But there is an alternative. We can address the best aspects of our nature. Human rights can unite people in solidarity. They can offer the opportunity to put into practice the human desire to be a good person, to do the right thing, and to help others.
For somebody to hear our messages, they need to see us as unifiers, as people who create constructive solutions, as people who will embark them on a journey, rather than as fighters. We also need them to feel that they live in a less polarized culture, contributing to a popular sense of unity and community – the ideal breeding ground for pro-human rights policies.