In 1967, Paul McCartney was asked how he writes a song. As a demonstration, he sat down in the dining room with a harmonium and instructed the questioner to say the opposite of whatever Paul said – that’s how he wrote the song, “Hello Goodbye.”
Writing a catchy tune may be one of the only situations where it works out well for two parties to speak past each other, yet in political conversations it’s still quite common. Two parties with opposite views will routinely talk past each other. It feels good to hold our ground because we’re defending what we believe in, but that is the long road to progress.
There is a better way to get our voice heard. We need to learn to speak to the audience from their perspective, not from our own. As an example, here’s how residents could advocate for the city to provide more greenway trails.
Hello, new residents
Residents want to enjoy the outdoors and would like more greenway trails. They’re appealing because they’re safer than sharing the road, and bigger than sidewalks, but it’s expensive to acquire the land to devote to parks and expensive to dig underpasses.
Speaking in terms that city officials can more easily appreciate, greenway trails represent an attraction for new taxpaying residents. Many American cities are retroactively finding ways to incorporate more nature into their city centers so residents have a convenient place to jog or walk the dog.
If Springfield can continue its efforts to acquire the land, we’ll build an incredible asset: an attractive city view in Google Maps. When new residents consider Springfield for relocation and see a web of green crisscrossing parks that connect the whole city, they immediately see what kind of lifestyle Springfield offers. Greenway trails build our identity as a city that values the environment and preserves access to the outdoors.
Hello, healthy people
Residents want wide greenway trails that fit both joggers and baby strollers. They might also like a separate trail just for bicycles and skateboards. But the city has to maintain these paths and they don’t generate revenue to cover their own upkeep.
A perspective that may appeal more to city officials would be reducing public welfare expenses. According to the Urban Institute, public welfare and health programs typically make up 30% of a municipality’s budget. Greenway trails could make our community healthier because more people could bike to work.
In 2015, when Copenhagen, Denmark, wanted to expand its bicycle highways, the city needed cooperation from mayors in the surrounding towns. The city challenged hesitant mayors to bike to work every day for a month and then decide if their improved health was enough to convince them to invest in the project. After a month, their health was measured and, on average, the mayors tested 11 years younger than they had at the start of the challenge. How much could such an initiative save in our own public welfare costs?
Bike-only streets also had the advantage of being 115 times cheaper to build than roads for cars, according to Copenhagenize.com. That means if Springfield spent $10 million a year building and repairing roads, it may only cost $86,900 to build and maintain new greenway trails. It’s a relative drop in the bucket to reduce our physical age by more than a decade.
Hello, new business
Residents want work-life balance, and the ability to enjoy the outdoors contributes to that.
To appeal to city officials, we could revisit what Oklahoma City learned in 1991. United Airlines was searching for a city to become its maintenance base and would provide 6,300 high-paying jobs. OKC’s economy was struggling at the time and needed the jobs. After the city presented incredibly generous incentives valued at $200 million, United Airlines declined and chose another city, with fewer incentives. Why? They couldn’t imagine asking their employees to live in a place as bleak as Oklahoma City.
Past Mayor Mick Cornett put it this way: “The quality of life had sunk so low we couldn’t buy someone’s attention.”
Ensuring that Springfield continues to become a better place to live also ensures that businesses will consider us for expansion.
In those three examples we see how one party’s want can be expressed in three different contexts to better align with the other party’s perspective. Especially when it comes to social and political matters of energy and environment, speaking from the perspective of our audience may help us move the conversation forward, rather than speaking past each other like, hello-goodbye.
Marcus Aton is the owner of Aton Marketing LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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