Roots and Fruits

Submitted by Victoria on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 11:46

Does it matter why people do the right thing?

Photo by Naoharu on Flickr (Creative Commons)

You know that post-Christmas lull in January/February where nothing happens? No? Me neither. I can safely say that the past five weeks have been one of the busiest periods I can remember in quite a long time. (And somehow I survived it without my computer which had to be mended, but that’s another story.) This busyness has included (but has not been limited to): preparing a climate campaign with Concern Universal; participating in the Ecumenical World Development Conference; being trained in advocacy by BOND; being part of the wonderful SCM Peace, Power and Protest Conference; and collapsing in a heap after completing aforementioned list.

In any one of these events (apart from collapsing in a heap), there was enough food for thought to nourish several blogs and have plenty of leftovers. But there was a particular theme which kept popping up time and again in many different contexts, and that was the theme of how to bring about change. As the BOND trainer on advocacy rightly put it, when we are trying to change something, most of all we want to alter people’s behaviour. Changing thoughts and feelings may be an important precursor, but if we don’t affect what people do, there isn’t much point. So far so uncontroversial.

But this is where it all gets a bit sticky. How on earth do you go about changing someone’s behaviour? For many, the answer is: by any means possible. Let’s take an example. If you google ‘reduce my carbon footprint’ or ‘green living’ or something to that effect, you will undoubtedly find good advice about living more sustainably. But it is remarkable how few of the sites offering this information are trying to appeal to environmental or climate concerns. More often than not, insulating your home or turning TVs off fully are promoted as ways of ‘reducing your energy bill’. Many campaigners and fundraisers alike consider the climate battle for hearts and minds to be already lost – and so they, understandably, have changed tack and are trying to tap into the more pressing concern of personal expenditure.

However, this approach didn’t convince the BOND trainer who had spent over 30 years in international advocacy. Nor did it seem to convince any of the people I had conversations with at the Ecumenical World Development or SCM Conferences. Because we know that our world won’t change if everyone’s values stay the same. If climate-conscious actions depend on a money-saving argument, people will cease to do them when a cheaper alternative emerges. We cannot challenge the injustices and selfishness which keep people poor or which push the planet into a climate crisis by appealing to instincts which are self-interested or disinterested in equality. It quite simply will not work.

This seems to me to be where the Church – i.e. all Christians – has something very important to bring.  Christ’s message is one which did the very thing we can see our world needs – he turns the world on its head, seeking first to change hearts because these were are the key to everything else. It was only through good trees that there can be good fruit. “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16b-17). Jesus knew that all the discord and chaos were symptoms of an even more profound crisis within the souls of people - people with a huge potential for good which they needed the encouragement of others to realise.

So how can we do it? How do you think we can change not only the fruit but also the trees in our world? How can Christians bring the root and branch (pardon the pun) transformation which is central to our faith? How can we be part of God’s kingdom coming on earth? It's something I'm wrestling with at the moment and I'd love to know what you think, so please post your ideas and thoughts below. 

Tags: change the worldclimate change