8 flexible and creative thinking tips for responding to ‘the riots’

The riots across the UK have shown the worst – and the best of people.

The film of a young man being callously mugged on the street while being injured can make you despair of humanity.

Yet, the widespread responses of people positively demonstrating their reaction to mindless destruction can equally warm your heart – that maybe all is not lost with humankind.

Here are eight flexible thinking tips to help you in guiding your thoughts in response to ‘the riots’: 

1.      Watch out for generalisations.

It can make you feel comfortable neatly assigning a problem to a stereotypical group – whether it is an age group, ethnic minority, or people living in a particular area. Nick Griffith the BNP leader tweeted how ‘typical’ it was for incidents to be reported in Chapeltown,Leeds. It was equally typical of stereotypical thinking.

In your response to the news do check your assumptions: is it really all young people, or all those of a certain group or area who are really guilty of what you are accusing them of? 

2.      Watch out for confirmatory bias

Are you really taking in all of the evidence from what you are witnessing, or just part of it which fits your prevailing worldview?

3. Each of us has a choice.

Defining individuals behaviour being a result of their socio-economic group provides a comforting logic to their behaviour: ‘They can’t help it, they have suffered, they are alienated from mainstream society….’ Yet, every one still has moral choices. People are not passive victims of their environment but blessed in being free-thinking individuals to make choices and decisions for themselves.

4. Yet recognise the power of nudge

Many of our behaviours can be determined by the shortness of what I call the ‘squeezesteps’ they have to take. Picture this: you are young, with the key people whose views and respect you most seek, there are other similar to you doing things which is easy to get involved with, you get subsumed within an adrenalin buzz, and before you know it you are next to someone who is making their way into the broken shop window, and you have the plasma screen in your hand…

People’s actions are often shaped by the lines of least resistance – it is easier to do it than to not do it – finding yourself doing things you may not normally countenance.

For every hoodie looting a shop the ‘respectable person’ might see on their TV or computer screen just recall Stanley Milgram’s classic study in 1961 of obedience, getting ‘normal’ people to act with brutality.

When asking if there a mutual sense of morality among the rioters bear in mind Milgram’s demonstration of how people can do things, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs. 

5.      Be aware of the potential to create a negative you want to avoid.

Is having live footage of riots in itself encouraging others to join-in and add to, or create their own scenes of mini-carnage? 

6.      The power of icons and role models.

The image of someone – someone like you (particularly if you are young, with a wardrobe of hoodies) challenging authority, smashing windows, getting their hands on designer wear or computers – how does that compare with say, Boris and his broom?

In a world of deep complexity, there is also a need to simplify. A role model, someone who inspires can galvanise action, can you raise your spirits, and get you act is a powerful message. There are plenty of negative role models out there at the moment creating iconic images. Maybe, the forces of authority need to consider what iconic images they could create to demonstrate their power and signifier for change. 

7.      What memes and branding are needed here?

We are actually witnessing ‘copycat acts of civil disobedience, or criminality’. Fortunately, for negative word of mouth they have been branded ‘riots. (As my friend Nathan Laneobserved: “They are creatively repositioned riots.”).

The ranges of acts witnessed across the streets ofBritainhave been neatly packaged under a single word: ‘riots’. This makes it easy to pass-on, where just one word conveys a bucket-load of meaning.

The guardians of authority now need a meme-friendly term to mark the turning of the tide, the changing of the narrative of this story.

The authorities have armed themselves with messages of ‘robust policing’, but now need actually need to brand the stage of the ‘story’. Terms like ‘the Clampdown begins’, ‘the Turning Point’ could fulfil a role here. 

8.      Think creatively

The example a few years ago of the shopping centre that wanted to disperse groups of youths hanging around its entrance by playing classical music comes to mind.

Rather than meet force with force, we should be asking ‘what is that worst move that our opponents want us to make?’

Maybe the power of ridicule, devaluing of ‘cool’, and just mockery could lead to the broadcasting of Mantovani across inner city areas as being more effective rather than water cannon.

Getting your opponent to take the move you want them to, rather than trying to force them can often be far more effective. 

Yet again, when faced with complexity, often contradictory images and information, the need to think flexibly and creatively is paramount.

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