#1 rule to be effectively persuasive

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Pulau Weh – one of the most beautiful islands I have ever been in my life. A green and blue paradise with whole lot of apes and fabulous diving.

After an hour of beautiful sights during a ferry trip we finally arrived to my paradise. Everyone rushed to the exit. I usually travel like a gypsy with loads of baggage so I was  almost the last one to leave. Suddenly things went into slow motion – I was shocked and could not stop shouting: “What are you doing?”

A man who had just thrown a plastic bottle overboard looked behind, searching for the person I was shouting at. To my horror, the whole crowd started THROWING EVERYTHING overboard – plastic bottles, empty cigarette packs, packs of crisps and plastic bags.

I was shocked!

It was simply unthinkable to me. But what was even more unthinkable was the fact that they saw nothing wrong in it. No one reacted because – as I learned many times later on – it was something completely natural in this part of the world.

I was devastated. I felt as if they threw all this trash at me.

I was stupefied. I never saw anyone treating the ocean with such a humongous lack of respect.

I was outraged. They were doing something that was plainly wrong and weren’t even aware of it.

I was angry. I wasn’t on my own territory and I didn’t know how to act.

I was disgusted, full of aggression and sad. I wanted do to all those people what they did with the bottles – throw them overboard. Then they could take these bottles back and apologize to all fish collectively and every single fish separately. 

I was never an active animal rights warrior or a mad environmental activist. I supported Greenpeace and their ideas, but the fact is that I often thought they went too far and I was never a part of their subculture who I called lunatics. But at that moment lion woke up in me.

The level of our own development and behaviour is obvious to us, which means that it is transparent. My standard is not the standard of Indonesians. It’s similar to how the standard of Greenpeace is not my standard.

It wasn’t the people who were bad, it was the way they were educated and brought up. If a person is unable to differentiate the right from wrong it’s impossible for them to start doing things right.

One of my greatest idols is Ken Wilber. He believes that we have different levels of development when it comes to various aspects of our personality.

For example, physical development (body) can be at level 5, emotional one at level 2, mental (mind, intellect) at level 7, existential at level 2 and spiritual only at level 1.

That’s why you can meet geniuses who are emotionally flat or spiritual weaklings who do exceptionally well in the material world.

What is important is that everyone is able to understand only the arguments at their own or lower level of development.

We can’t jump our own level you won’t understand when Chinese person gives you directions in Chinese if only you speak Polish. The languages have to be compatible.

If my environmental development is at level 3 and Greenpeace talks to me from level 10, their arguments sound like pure madness to me. What else can I do? Consider myself dumb? Irresponsible? A parasite on this planet?

We need to have a common language and, unfortunately, the more advanced person has to descend to the lower level.

That’s why my “what are you doing?!” sounded totally crazy to a person who threw out bottles, paper or worn backpack to the ocean. It’s not because they have bad intentions (although they don’t have good ones either), but because their environmental development is to mine as mine is to Greenpeace’s.

So, in order to make changes successfully we first need to descend to the level of the interlocutor and not expect them to jump up to our own.

The most important conclusion coming from combining my observations and recalling the teachings of Ken was that judging and admonishing was not going to accomplish anything. First I had to help these people understand what they were doing wrong and why it was harmful to them as well.

I’m not the most pro-environment person – for example, I drink from disposable cups in Starbucks and I love it. But I’ve already made progress. I stopped buying water in plastic bottles, instead I bought the most beautiful device for making sparkling water in the world.

Shouting at somebody, crucifying and embarrassing them is not talking from the level of a person whose attitude we want to change. If we really want to make any changes it’s worth considering what is important, interesting and attractive at the level of THAT person. Than take off our crown, put it on the side in a quiet and safe place and go down to the cave of ignorance of the person with whom we don’t agree so strongly.

Let’s leave the disdain towards their views (next to the crown) and try using language they understand. Maybe they actually will understand us then.

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