let’s stop the war of words

A November 2019 article in the British Medical Journal showed how difficult it is to change peoples’ minds, especially with regards to vaccinations. Facts don’t change peoples’ minds.

Lesson 2: don’t bring a fact to a narrative fight

Experts and health professionals can arm themselves with white papers, peer reviewed studies, and symposia; but if these are our only weapons, we will only ever get so far. In an era in which experts are increasingly distrusted, the “we know best” mindset is counterproductive.

Those wishing to encourage vaccination need to identify and amplify the stories that emerge from the real lives and lived experiences of people in their communities (to start, they need to listen for them). It is no coincidence that the most effective climate advocacy in the world right now comes from the improvisations and stories of a 16 year old girl rather than the strategic plans of a generations old institution. —BMJ: New Power versus Old

For example, a mandatory education class in Ontario, Canada — complete with videos and health care professionals to advise — has been useless in getting parents to accept vaccinations for their children.

‘But since it was introduced in 2017, thousands of mothers and fathers have dutifully watched the video, collected their “Vaccine Education Certificate” — then continued to duck the shots.

As one public health manager put it: “We had a zero percent conversion rate.”’ —National Post 2019-03-15

But the experience in Québec, Canada has been quite different, using a different approach. EMMIE (l’Entretien Motivationnel en Maternité pour l’Immunisation des Enfants), in English — Motivational Interviewing in Maternity Hospitals for Child Immunization.

It [EMMIE] uses a method of counselling called motivational interviewing, an empathic, non-confrontational communication style developed by psychologists to bring about behavioural change.

“We are here to understand them and to give them the answers they need to make a good decision about immunization, and to help them to build a stronger decisional process about immunization of the child,” said [Doctor] Gagneur … [In the case of one mother] Just 19 and living in rural Alberta at the time she had her first child, Coulis said she did a lot of reading, a lot of which she didn’t understand fully. “I felt confused and unable to parse the information about this study versus that study.” There were big claims by anti-vaccination literature, but Coulis didn’t see those acknowledged by the government materials or by public health nurses … “The message from public health was, ‘Just trust us, we’ve done the thinking for you,'” she said. —CBC 2020-12-19

As Dan White so succinctly stated, “Sorry to break it to you but arguments and facts don’t change people’s minds. It’s been proven neurologically that only relational warmth, not a war of words, can light up our neocortex awakening us to something new.”

So far, the narratives presented by many of our authorities have not been very compelling. It’s time to meet people where they are and listen. We have to not only get through this pandemic but prepare for the next, and more importantly deal with the climate emergency.

2 Responses to “let’s stop the war of words”


    Interested to see how different cultures (French Canadian vs English Canada) approach the same issues differently within the same country – in a good way.
    Checked out Dan White – gotta look into it deeper – offers some thought provoking ideas.

  2. Harold Jarche

    Having lived in Québec a couple of times, there is no doubt in my mind that it has a different culture. The focus on collective good, as opposed to individual rights, may be a factor in how they look at this issue.


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