COLUMN: Trust, common ground helps influence others

Food Matters

If the weather does not co-operate, food prices go up. If oil prices go up, the price of food goes up. Turmoil in the Middle East began with rising food prices, which led to further rises in oil prices.

The rising global demand for meat pushes food prices up because meat animals are fed grains. And it’s not just China and India pushing up prices, North American meat consumption, driven by fast foods, is rising.

When a study from the UN was released correlating climate change with food prices, some media commentators were quick to seize on the relative lack of climate impact in the U.S., disregarding that part of the study that suggests that the U.S. will catch up in climate instability. They were not considering the effects of distant climate impacts on poor people in developing countries, sometimes called the Third World.

The spurt in urban agriculture may have taken planners and politicians by surprise, but ordinary people often grasp new realities faster than governments and the financial sector. People set trends based on their priorities and, in my opinion, there’s no stopping this one.

But it takes time for cultural changes to take root and people resist change.

I think that’s why business theorists have added to the triple bottom line of profit, planet and people the aspect of culture. Because we’re not just about money, or environment or social justice, we are bound into a myriad of cultures – familial, religious, organizational, community, etc., etc.

Conventional wisdom has long understood that people do not form their opinions in a rational way, and a recent Mother Jones article by Chris Mooney provocatively titled The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science tells us that “new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience have further demonstrated how our pre-existing beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even colour what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”

High-speed emotions precede rational thought, “We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close.” Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues classify people as either “individualists” or “communitarians,” and as either “hierarchical” or “egalitarian” in outlook.

I interpret the new information as a useful explanation of the phenomenon of prejudice, or pre-judging. As a fine teacher explained prejudice to me: “First you choose what you want to believe, then you pick out only the data that agrees with that choice.”

The new information reaffirms what we already knew instinctively: if you want to influence ‘the other side’, develop a trust relationship and find the common ground.

Don’t rant and rave and scold and accuse.

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Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Foodshare Society and president of the multi-stakeholder co-op, Heritage Foodservice. She can be reached at: marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.

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