In a rapidly evolving field that is becoming more and more sophisticated, specialization is inevitable and perhaps even essential. However, the downside of specialization is that it leads to a proliferation of jargon, and regular Joe doesn’t like jargon. To reach him and every other decision-maker, we need to do as Bellamente suggests and become sustainability mythmakers.
A sustainability mythmaker is one who takes the truth about what is happening in the world, and communicates in a way that engages (rather than enrages) people who may not yet understand. To bring them along, a sustainability mythmaker invokes a sense of legend, personal attachment and shared purpose that counterbalances unfamiliar and scary subject matter. A sustainability mythmaker is a vision caster who communicates not only to inform, but to also inspire others to work in defense of that which they hold dear.
I tried my hand at sustainability mythmaking last week at our Capitol in Austin while advocating for a bill to prohibit the shark fin trade in Texas. Testifying before the state House and Senate committees, which included some extremely conservative legislators, I was challenged with how to speak about an issue I care deeply about, which is draining the ocean of 100 million sharks each year. How was I going to communicate about this without using words like “unsustainable,” “inhumane” and “global”?
When I took my place at the microphone, I decided to tell a story instead. I talked as a regular citizen reminiscing about family trips to the Texas coast. I talked about my husband growing up fishing on the bayou near Houston. I talked about how impressed we were with the revitalization of Galveston Island (during which we literally had to evacuate our vacation rental house in 2008 when Hurricane Ike struck), and how we needed a vibrant ocean to complement this coastal community we all share. Speaking about shark conservation in terms of protecting the Gulf economy, I cited the importance of maintaining a balanced ecology for fisherman and the diving community, for which the Gulf is a popular destination given its proximity to Flower Garden Banks, one of 14 National Marine sanctuaries.
My testimony was all true — just as true as if I had told a different facet of the story, one replete with statistics and facts and gory details about shark finning. Knowing my audience, I instead cast a vision of us all working together to preserve our coastal waters. Framing it in these terms has helped us garner tremendous bipartisan support and buzz for an issue that could easily have been regarded as too narrow or ever controversial.
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