Credit: Le Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie

Why do some messages attract crowds?

Mathieu D'Amours
Sept. 25, 2019

Greta Thunberg had an explosive effect on the world. It was in August 2018, just over a year ago, that her environmental protests began. She rebelled against politicians hardly acting in response to a crisis that she and many others described as "the most urgent than humanity has experienced so far". It's as if the house was on fire and we all stayed here in the kitchen, making a budget to determine what minimal efforts we should make to reduce damage without affecting other daily activities.

These days, millions of people are taking to the streets to send a strong message to politicians and influencers. All committed to the same path. Many compare the "Greta Effect" to the bursting of a growing denial bubble.

In this article, although the cause touches Marie-Lou and I very much, we won't talk much about what Greta said recently through her latest moving speeches. Instead, we want to discuss how a message and a cause can spread so quickly, in just over a year!

First of all, we know that the subject of global warming is not a new one. Over the past 20 years, books, studies, summits, documentaries and demonstrations have happened at an increasingly rapid pace. There is an ever-increasing number of people admitting the existence of global warming and anxious that this warming must be countered at all costs.

It was in front of these many receptive people that Greta delivered a different message: she shouted with emotions that "the future of her whole generation is being stolen by the inaction of previous generations". Parents, grandparents, future parents and the children themselves were incredibly moved. Theoretical and abstract information became an emotional and pressing message. And bam, the denial bubble burst.

In Quebec, a similar phenomenon has occurred. Faced with a different, but equally laudable, problem.

Pierre Lavoie, through the various programs of his Grand Défi, has engaged a community of more than 450,000 people, who collectively generated more than 400 million "energy cubes" in 1450 schools and 550 daycare centres. It has inspired the commitment of thousands of Quebecers and led as many people to take concrete action on a daily basis.

How did one man manage to rally so many people around a common cause? First of all, he didn't do it alone. Through his communication skills and leadership, he has succeeded in demonstrating to people the value of their commitment and in getting them to act. He insisted on sharing leadership across different communities: children collect energy cubes to sleep at the Olympic Stadium and adults create teams around a common physical challenge, while raising funds for a school in which they are involved. He has succeeded in making everyone empowered to act.

He did so on a basis that everyone agreed with: people, in order to be in better physical and mental health, must move more and have healthier lifestyles. He used that to deliver a message filled with emotion and hope: "If the population acts before health problems occur, by adopting healthier lifestyles, we can collectively invest more about other serious health problems".

What do these two initiatives have in common?

They are both deeply motivated by a strong mission to improve society and were able to deliver, each in their own way, a message that has resonated strongly with people. People that were "ready", already adhering to the bases of their message.

Also, both were able use effective mechanisms to deliver their message:

  • Pierre Lavoie has succeeded, among other things, in talking with physical education teachers directly, rather than trying to get the approval of school boards or the Ministry.
  • Greta Thunberg was propelled by modern journalists and influencers on social networks. She managed to do this by insisting that she had to leave her classes to demonstrate outside the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) until the general elections.

Both have managed to convince a very large number of people that their actions as individuals can have a great impact on the cause they brought forward. And that this impact can be meaningful for our lives as citizens.

Greta's book is entitled "No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference", a fact that we tend to forget in an immense and complex society like ours. But when a leader reminds us of that from time to time, we can't help but aspire to make a difference too.

These two inspiring cases set the stage for the announcement of our next Braver Talk, which will take place in just over a month! Details are on Facebook and on EventBrite!