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[personal profile] ursangnome
Are you among those who are surprised at how hard it is to get people to not be jerks? Well, consider this: When your dog poops in the living room, does shouting at him, whacking him with a rolled up newspaper, and rubbing his nose in it actually help train him to not poop indoors in the future? No! Animals, including humans, do not respond well to negative reinforcement. If your message is primarily negative, you’ll find it a long road to change the behavior of others.

This includes those who are engaged in trying to make the world a more enlightened place – battling against racism, sexism, or intolerance of sexual preferences or gender identity. You are probably frustrated at the majority of the white and/or male population, and how they just don’t seem to get it. Well, I’m sorry, but the primary message they’re getting reads like, “No. Bad! Wrong! How horrible! Inappropriate! Unacceptable! Bad Dog! *Whap!*”

Once you think of it as trying to train a fellow animal, it becomes clear why this doesn't yield good results, and generates a lot of pushback. It is not enough to point out bad behavior. Rewarding good behavior, however, targets how people most effectively learn.

I expect you are now thinking, “I should not have to reward good behavior! We’re civilized human beings, and this should be merely the base of what’s acceptable!” I’m sorry, but that position is not grounded in the reality of how people operate. However objectively right or wrong you are, you still need to reward people for doing the right thing. Adults may be more sophisticated than children, but the fundamentals are still the same – right action cannot be assumed to be automatic. It must be taught, and good work should be rewarded.

Unfortunately, negative headlines get eyeballs. They raise our ire and righteousness; they’re good at energizing your supporters. But directing that negativity at the people you wish to change is probably not going to have a salutary effect.

Consider this the next time you’re sharing headlines on social media. What are you trying to do in reposting? Does the article you’re planning to share actually help achieve that goal? The next time you want to share an article describing how *wrong* someone was in their behavior, consider instead seeking out an article to share about how someone was *right* in their behavior.
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