Remember the proverb about honey and vinegar

Decisions, doctrines or diapers, it doesn’t matter; trying to change anything can leave a person with a mess on their hands.

Yet, there is a tool that we all have at our disposal that can move us along the dirty, bumpy, winding road of change: positive, personal, honest communication.

We see the exact opposite all too often in the media, in politics, in local discussion over marshland and national discourse regarding tarsands.

When opinions are presented, especially to an audience of opposing views, it can become personal quickly and various substances start to get smeared and slung.

The problem often is that a solution, or alternative, isn’t being offered with the contrarian communications.

Whether you’re a politician, profiteer or parent, speaking one-on-one to a person, defining the problem they face, then offering a solution will get you closer to your goal, which ultimately is agreement.

Not to harp on the Harper visit to Brentwood College, but it was a perfect example of how differing opinions quickly bring out the negative and miss the opportunity for change. Protesters with “No” and “Stop” signs quickly drew name-calling of “doomsayers” and “fanatics.”

The only person it seems who didn’t miss the opportunity was Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.

When he came to Brentwood College to see his supporters, he did the right thing if his end game was self-, or party-preservation.

He met on a personal level with those who share his ideological bent, and solidified, potentially even shifted, the degree to which they support him.

This appearance wasn’t about changing people’s minds. This was about reassuring and inspiring those who want the same kind of Canada he wants.

When Harper wanted to gain new supporters, he changed venues and used another form of positive messaging — he professed enthusiasm for an exceptional, inspirational part of Cowichan, the Kinsol Trestle, a source of pride among locals.

Although transparent, Harper’s use of personal, positive messaging will likely get him further than had he come to Cowichan and held press conferences simply smearing his competition.

Harper, of course, has used those tactics, too, but that’s not the focus here.

Using a negative communication strategy to earn new supporters is like using kidnapping to get a friend. It’s a major violation, and certainly doesn’t end up gaining you trust.

That’s why whatever your message, for the most hope of success it has to be precise, personal, honest and delivered with conviction. It also has to provide a solution.

One of the difficulties faced by those opposed to new oil pipelines and tar sand development is communicating what the alternative is.

If we can’t provide solutions, we are left just presenting problems, and no one wants to continuously hear about problems.

Too much messaging is about what the other guy is doing wrong.

We need to focus on how what we are doing is right, show how others can do the same, and talk to each other on a personal level.

It’s easier to become friends with your neighbour than overthrow a government.

And ultimately the results will be the same.

Aaron Bichard writes for newspapers and recycles them. Connect with him at cowichanrecyclists@gmail.com.

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