How to Change The World By Meeting People Where They CareNov 27, 2021
17-year-old Mildred and 23-year-old Richard lived in Central Point, Virginia. They were long-time friends until they fell in love and got married. Richard was a white construction worker and Mildred was a woman of mixed African American and Native American ancestry. On a beautiful day in June 1958, they exchanged wedding vows in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriages were legal, and then returned home to Central Point.
On July 11, 1958, just five weeks after their wedding, local police stormed into the Loving’s home and woke them up in their bed at about 2:00 a.m. Despite seeing their marriage certificate from Washington D.C, the police still arrested them. The couple was charged with violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, which deemed interracial marriages, particularly the marriage between white and non-white couples, a felony under the Racial Integrity Act.
Richard and Miton pleaded guilty the following year, and the court sentenced them to one year in prison but suspended the sentence if they left Virginia and did not return to the state for 25 years.
The couple sued the state for unequal treatment under the law and won at the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided anti-miscegenation laws violated people’s right to equal protection under the law. Their case, Loving v. Virginia, lives in our history books and law books as the case that ended prohibitions on interracial marriage and dealt a major blow to segregation.
Two people changed the law, and as a result, changed the world.
Richard and Mildred’s story is not just a story about the law - it is about how ordinary people can create deep systemic change. How two people, determined to live a life of freedom, changed an entire system of laws that outlawed interracial marriages and created a more equal world.
But deep institutional and social change of the type we see here depends a lot on getting people to believe in your cause or message, to invest in your mission, and to do what you would like them to do. You need to get people to believe in the change you want to achieve. To get people to buy-in, you need to ask some of the following questions:
- What does it take to get an investor to believe in your business and invest in your mission?
- What does it take to get customers to believe in your product or service and invest in it?
- What does it take to get your employees to believe in your company’s mission and invest time and energy in supporting it?
- What does it take to get people to support your vision for a better world?
Because if people do not invest in the change you see as necessary, you can’t create that change.
Whether you’re trying to create change through laws, norms, markets, or architecture, you need to get people to invest in your mission.
How do you do that?
By offering people an outcome they want and showing them how you will get them there. The truth is: people pay attention to things that they care about. And the way to persuade them to invest in your mission or business is to connect with them at the point where they care the most (so that they are open to hearing you) and show them the outcome of your cause.
So if you’re talking to an investor and want them to fund your business, offer them the outcome they want - a good return on investment - and your plan to get them there e.g. by having a great business plan, great team, a great product, a great marketing plan, etc.
If you’re talking to your customers and want them to buy from you, offer them the outcome they want - the transformation they get from using your product - and how your product will get them there e.g. by shortening their learning curve, by giving them prestige, by bettering their relationships or productivity, or getting them more clients, etc.
If you’re talking to a business partner and want them to collaborate with you, offer them the outcome they want - connections to a new market or new growth - and how collaborating with you will open new marketing or distribution channels, create new opportunities, or get exposure to new customers, etc.
If you are talking to stakeholders about impact and want them to care about change, offer them the outcome they want - better employees or more customers - and how caring about change will get them better employees or more customers by being a socially responsible company, by connecting with their ideal customers, or showing up as a leader in their space.
Too many times, we focus on ourselves and what we want - the funding, the business, the partnership, the impact - and not the people we try to persuade. That gets us nowhere until we make them focus on what they want and how you can provide that outcome. An offer makes you focus on what they care about most and makes them open to what you have to say.
Once you connect with them at the point where they care the most, they are very likely to care about your mission.
In Richard and Mildred’s case, they did not make the fact that they were an interracial couple trying to live in a state with anti-miscegenation laws the issue. Not everyone is in an interracial marriage and not everyone will care about the fact that people of different races cannot be together. But the outcome everyone cares about is being treated equally under the law. Everyone cares about the fact that laws do not discriminate and punish people unfairly. And everyone cares that laws do not interfere with people’s choice of whom to marry.
An offer to change the law to ensure equal treatment got Richard and Mildred public buy-in and created change.
Today, we are not going to create racial equality or equity by changing laws. Most laws that treated people of different races differently changed during the civil rights era.
But there are still norms in place that result in inequality and inequity today. If you feel called to it, the question is how do you now change these norms? How do you get buy-in from people who, knowingly or unknowingly, subscribe to norms that do not give people of different races the same access to resources or opportunities?
You meet people where they care the most and offer them an outcome they care about.
For example, is the lack of equitable treatment causing the company money or lost opportunities? Then you show how to create a more equitable workplace. This calls you to have the courage to state your position and mission clearly, go about creating change creatively, have the compassion to meet people where they are, and build a community or be part of a community that supports you.
The point is social change can be a complex subject but if you know how to go about it in a way that is systematic and with clarity, you can create change and make the world a better place. By focussing on the outcomes people want.
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