“Speak the Truth but, not to punish.” This is what Thich Nhat Hahn told Jim Hoggan. Thich Nhat Hahn was one of the 60+ intellectuals and thought leaders that Jim interviewed as part of his 3-year research project. Jim’s findings will be released later this year in his book The Polluted Public Square.
The Polluted Public Square explores why, in spite of compelling scientific evidence, we are doing little as a society to address the current environmental crisis. Jim believes that the current practice of misinformation campaigns from polluters, coupled with adversarial rhetoric from industry and environmentalists alike, is doing little to create cooperative solutions. As one cognitive scientist told Jim, “Just as you can pollute the natural environment you can pollute public communications.”
Jim learned at an early age how to deal with bullies. Trapped by bullies with a school friend while exploring a cave, Jim realized that the more he and his friend yelled and were upset when trying to escape, the more the bullies seemed to enjoy it. The lesson learned from his experience was verified by the many experts Jim spoke with while writing his book. Polarized rhetoric leaves no room for middle ground and creative solutions. “We’re talking past each other.” Jim told the audience, “Maybe it is not more facts and anger that are needed but warmer hearts.”
Another of Jim’s interviewees, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, warned that the danger of the current climate of “I’m right, you’re wrong”, is that everyone thinks they are right and pointed out the dangers of slipping into moral righteousness. Important lessons certainly for environmental activists to ensure there is room left in the conversation for polluters to change their practices and do the right thing.
Of course, injustice should be spoken out against, but as Harvard public policy lecturer, Marshall Gantz reminded Jim, “The goal should not be winning or crushing each other, but turning toward the truth.”