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Building Bridges: How (not) to talk about Human Rights

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Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and hence constrains the solutions needed to address that problem. George Lakoff

Do you remember the last time you read about human rights in a British newspaper? What was the angle? Was it about national security? Or the power of the European courts? Or protecting universal rights?

Here are a few headlines from different newspapers over the past couple of years:

Put UK back in charge of Human Rights Laws
Human rights are a charter for criminals, say 75% of Britons
Tory Wreckers out to destroy their own human rights

Each of these headlines connects human rights with a different area of concern, implying a different problem and solution – what authority should dictate our laws (the UK or Europe); who uses or abuses the law (citizens or criminals), and who it is actually designed to protect (everyone or the few).

How we talk about human rights can and does make a huge difference to how they are perceived. While the vast majority of us are either supportive or undecided about human rights, the media tells a different story. In a review of broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, political blogs and parliamentary speeches from 2013, ‘human rights’ was rarely used in a positive context. In fact, only 30% of articles were supportive of human rights in the UK (in England it was less than 20%).

This won’t surprise anyone that has paid attention to media coverage of human rights, but it gets more interesting when you look at the different ‘frames’ used. A frame is a story, composed of ideas, memories, emotions and values attached to and associated with a given concept. Framing is a communication tool, that we use (consciously or unconsciously) to provoke a particular kind of reaction to that concept. Most ideas (like human rights) can be talked about in vastly different ways. Last year, working with Counterpoint and Equally Ours, we analysed UK media coverage of human rights; identified the main frames, and then tested how these frames affected people’s values and attitudes.

Bec SandersonBuilding Bridges: How (not) to talk about Human Rights
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Feel-Good Food

This spicy-hot root does plenty for an efficiently-functioning digestive system, thanks to anti-inflammatory phytonutrients known as gingerols that work to alleviate a distressed tract. According to ayurvedic medicine tradition, ginger is a potent healer in all stages of the digestion process.

Jon AlexanderFeel-Good Food
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Some psychological consequences of putting a price on nature

New research we’ve conducted provides further evidence that advancing the economic case for conservation is risky. It may undermine the foundations upon which deeper public concern about the environment will be built. 

We know that there are a range of problems with attempts to use estimates of the financial value of nature as a reason for conserving it. George Monbiot laid many of these out in his lecture at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute last summer.

Common Cause highlights one reason that these attempts are particularly problematic (the one, incidentally, to which Monbiot also attaches the greatest importance in his lecture). It is this: the values which motivate concern about economic performance seem to be almost perfectly opposed to the values which motivate concern about the preservation of nature.

Engaging and strengthening concern about the economy seems to risk undermining concern for the preservation of nature – even where concern about the economy draws attention to the economic benefits of conserving nature.

This is a case that Common Cause has advanced for many years – Tim Kasser and I lay it out in full, in our book Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity (see especially Section 4.2.1). There we cite Douglas McCauley, writing in Nature back in 2006:

[Conservationists] may believe that the best way to meaningfully engage policy-makers… is to translate the intrinsic value of nature into the language of economics. But this is patently untrue – akin to saying that the civil rights advocates would have been more effective if they provided economic justifications for racial integration.”(p.28)

Conservationists should take note: Martin Luther King had a dream, not a cost-benefit analysis.

Tom CromptonSome psychological consequences of putting a price on nature
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No Cause is an Island

A major new piece of research

Common Cause makes the case for a different approach to creating change.

Most current approaches to creating change focus on specific causes (for example, biodiversity conservation or international development; climate change or disability rights). They identify key interventions – changes in people’s behaviour, or policies for example – that will help to advance these causes. And then they promote these interventions.

Common Cause makes the case that this approach, important as it is, isn’t sufficient. We confront huge challenges. If we are to step up to addressing these, then our approaches need to add up to more than the sum of their parts.

We have built the case that we need also to look ‘across’ a wide range of causes. In this way we can identify the values that motivate people’s concern about these causes, and work to engage and strengthen them.

Common Cause has accumulated a large body of evidence for this approach. But much of this evidence comes from studies run by academics who don’t necessarily set out to address the specific challenges faced by charities. Often we hear from communicators and campaigners in charities that the material tested in these studies isn’t very ‘realistic’.

A new study

Today we’re publishing a new study, which we have been working on for many months. It combines the best of both worlds. On the one hand, we’ve worked on it with some of the world’s leading experts on values. On the other hand, we used it to test the effectiveness of material produced by staff in WWF (a conservation charity) and Scope (a disability charity). The study makes use of a large panel of nearly 14,000 people managed by the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton. Having read text describing the work of either WWF or Scope, in either intrinsic or extrinsic terms, we then asked people about their intention to help one or other of these charities – by donating money, volunteering, lobbying their MP, or joining a public meeting.

Here are some key findings, each of which I’ll be unpacking further in subsequent blogs.

Tom CromptonNo Cause is an Island
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The Sweet Lure Of Chocolate

Chocolate. There are few foods that people feel as passionate about — a passion that goes beyond a love for the “sweetness” of most candies or desserts: after all, few people crave caramel, whipped cream, or bubble gum. For the true chocoholic, just thinking about chocolate can evoke a pleasurable response.

Jon AlexanderThe Sweet Lure Of Chocolate
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Feed Your Skin

Indulging in savory fruits and vegetables and warm, spicy baked goods is one of the season’s great pleasures. But did you know that this cornucopia also can benefit your beauty routine? In fact, the very ingredients that are hallmarks of your holiday meals are extremely effective skin remedies.

Joe BrewerFeed Your Skin
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Education Conference 2014

Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of good education.
– Martin Luther King

What does good values-based education look like?

Last week we hosted a 2 day conference in cold and beautiful Edinburgh to discuss this question. With a hosting team from PIRC, Lifeworlds Learning, Character Scotland and Learning for Sustainability Scotland, and a room full of people working on or researching this topic, there was a lot of buzz and plenty of examples of good practice.

In a rather cruel Pecha Kucha session (which, if you’ve never done it, involves speaking for precisely 6.40 mins, following 20 slides on a strict timer of 20 seconds each), a number of brave speakers stepped up to the stage. We’re working on turning this into a short film, but to just give a couple of snippets – we heard how the Real World Network were using values and frames to guide their outdoor education, developing such frames as “This time we share, with the past and future” and “All taking requires giving back”; how the Woodcraft Folk’s focus on learning through co-operation and sharing was being integrated into Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence and how the John Muir Award scheme had been designed primarily to bring a little more AWE into the world (because awe’s great, isnt it?)

Conference panorama

Bec SandersonEducation Conference 2014
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15 Reasons to Visit Lambda

Lambda Magazine Street is home to a dazzling array of local shops, restaurants, art galleries, and more. Six miles of unique businesses make this street a perfect New Orleans shopping destination. Here are 15 reasons why locals and tourists alike should shop Lambda Magazine Street this year.

Joe Brewer15 Reasons to Visit Lambda
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Infographic – Social Media Addiction

…Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate? How do you know she is a witch? On second thoughts, let’s not go there. It is a silly place. Where’d you get the coconuts? Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I’m being repressed!

Jon AlexanderInfographic – Social Media Addiction
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