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OFF CENTRE – Me and Mr Jones . . .

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE – Me and Mr Jones . . .

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THIS IS THE TRUTH, if you must know: I’m in love with a married woman . . . and I thank God she’s married to me. (Blaine Larsen sings the song.)
This is true, too: people who publicly write or speak on social issues have to contend with an impelling force that tempts them to, at all costs, hold on like grim death to ideas they have put out there.
Depending on the positioning of your tongue and your cheek, you might even call this force a demon.
I don’t think I fell for it on the Ronald Jones/demon possession issue.
As people assailed the Minister of Education for linking youth deviance to demon possession, I wrote that in focusing primarily on him and his choice of word we were going after the wrong target when we should be concentrating on solving the problem.
That did not satisfy some people who, it seems, felt we should all attack Mr Jones – with some ridicule and/or vitriol thrown in for good measure – to make him see the error of his ways.
I en in dat.
Now, in my view he was wrong, wrong, wrong! There is no way that the critical-mass, many-hued deviance among the young can be attributed largely to demonic activity.
Does that mean that I should think that attacking Mr Jones would be a useful approach to getting change?
That would be to go on a wild Jones chase.
If we are serious about change, we can’t do that. But the truth is that we have critical shortcomings in our understanding of change and influence.
Nick Cooney, in his very interesting book Change Of Heart – What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, says: “What’s really at the heart of social change is an entire field of knowledge largely ignored by the activist community: the area of psychology.”
(Now, I assume that when we write and talk publicly about social matters, we are, to a lesser or greater degree, seeking social change. In addition to reading Cooney, then, you might take a look at Timothy Wilson’s Redirect: The Surprising New Science Of Psychological Change; Influencer by Kerry Patterson and others; Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath; and Writing To Change The World by Mary Pipher.)
One method that we put too much faith in is overt verbal persuasion. We don’t seem to recognize that a back-and-forth of ideas is often a battle of egos, a battle to protect a psychological investment.
Don’t forget that, as Meg Greenfield put it, “thin skin is the only skin human beings come with”.
Have you not realized that very few people change their viewpoints as a result of argument?
Have you not noticed that many a person who seems to have capitulated in such a situation reverts to his original position in short order? Be more observant, man.
And when you spice up your dismantling of the other person’s position with sarcasm or derision or personal attack, the dog – of change – dead.
Cooney also says most activists fail to have some benchmark of success. So there is no aim or an inappropriate one.
In this demon possession issue, what would be success? Changing Mr Jones’ mind? Yeah, right.
Educating the public? Why? Most people don’t attribute youth deviance to demon possession.
His stepping down or removal? In this Buhbaydus? Even in more fertile countries, it takes more than writing and talking to get ministers removed.
But even if we did get Mr Jones removed, isn’t there a 100 per cent chance he will be replaced by someone under whose watch there will be no reduction in youth deviance? 
We need to come to terms with our ignorance about the psychology of social change; our poor modus operandi in getting enough people to join us in genuine activism to make a difference; and our failure to understand our difficulty in affecting power holders in the midst of their term in office and the consequent need to fix that and/or work with them or around them in putting solutions to problems in place.
’Cause, meanwhile, what have we done about the deviance?
Social change is too hard for us to be spending time walking fruitless paths. It requires far more than venting – at Mr Jones or anybody else.
Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]