Sarah: In his concluding comments after a harrowing episode of Four Corners on Monday night (which told the story of a young boy trained by his two male de-facto parents to participate in sexual activities with adults), Kerry O’Brien said the following:
“As a footnote to tonight’s story, it’s worth observing that it (i.e. the case presented) does not reflect on gay parenting, but on the actions of two individuals. It’s also worth remembering that most child sex offences relate to crimes against young girls, not young boys, and the predator is usually known to the family.”
I’m so glad he added that comment. Clearly he though that facts provided after a highly emotive story would be heard by viewers, processed in their minds and have an impact on their opinions. I hope he’s right. But I fear that people who deep down have a fear of gay parenting will use this story to back up their beliefs.
Facts notwithstanding, people believe what they want to believe. It’s complicated.
It’s a concept also seen in science, and which Rod Lamberts tackles beautifully in an article in today’s The Conversation. Dr Rod says,
“At best, presenting people with facts to counter their beliefs makes them ignore you; at worst, it drives them further away. How much more evidence do you need than the singular failure of scientific facts to convince deniers that humans are buggering up the climate?”
Recently I’ve been thinking about how people set up boundaries to protect a way of life.
I imagine the human brain to be a bit like a house. In the house, choice of colours, furnishings and artwork – budget allowing – reflect what you are comfortable and familiar with. You separate the outside world from your inner, created world by installing a solid door with a lock, bolted windows, a high fence and perhaps even a security system. Almost a bit of John Howard-esque,
“I will decide who comes to my house, and the circumstances in which they come!”
If someone unsavoury knocks on my door, I can chose not to let him or her in.
If a fact presents itself which contradicts the steady state that I have developed in my brain, I can also chose not to let it in.
Developing techniques which will convince people to drop their barriers just a little, to let little snippets of unfamiliar information into their minds is the task ahead.
This means scientists need to start working with experts who understand people and behaviour. Marketers. Psychologists. Political scientists. Sociologists. Media experts.
[photo thanks to Horia Varlan on flickr]