Healing Our World Commentary: Is Preaching to the Choir a Waste of Time?

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Is Preaching to the Choir a Waste of Time?

For two thousand miles the land is fair
with hills and streams,
Uncounted cherry-apples fringe the high road.
The wind bears along the fallen petals to mingle
with the passing horses;
Those winds of spring, how they surpass even
the wayfarers in their bustle.

-- Kao KO-kung (11th century Chinese poet)

With the onset of the New Year, it is important to examine and reassess our activities. After 180 Healing Our World commentaries, it is important for me to examine what I have been doing for the last five years with these writings.

A comment from a reader of my weekly thoughts who has enjoyed Healing Our World recently expressed a concern that helped me focus on why I do what I do. He feared that I might be "preaching to the choir," a phrase used to suggest that only those who already hold my views are part of the audience. This phrase is, I think, an oversimplification. There may not be nor may there ever have been a choir to preach to.


Choir of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Hollywood, California (Photo courtesy St. Thomas Church)
Understanding these social dynamics is important for environmental and social activists, a people who are challenged every day to promote a viewpoint that is in direct conflict with the economic motives of Western society.

I personally do not subscribe to the idea that speaking to those who agree with you is somehow a waste of time. That whole concept is based on a fallacious assumption - that people think all one way and agree with one another on all things.

Anyone who has had any contact with activists on any issue will have noticed that among 50 people who are working on an issue, many will have divergent views on 1) the reasons why they are doing the work, 2) how their beliefs fit into the matrix of their lives and society, and 3) what they hope the outcome of their actions will be.

Many will also have divergent views on eating habits, lifestyle choices, and about what in society needs changing. Some will wear sweatshirts and tennis shoes and be unaware, or unconcerned, that child labor sweatshops produce most of the apparel, while others eat no animal products nor do they wear leather.

I have worked on environmental issues with folks who smoke tobacco, eat meat, and wear clothing sewn by child labor. I have worked with vegans who couldn't give a hoot about consumerism. There is no choir on any issue. I don't think there ever has been.


U'wa tribal chief from Colombia accompanied by U.S. human rights and environmental activists demonstrated outside the offices of investment giant Bernstein/Alliance Capital April 26, 2001 to protest the company's holdings in Occidental Petroleum. (Photo courtesy Amazon Watch)
People opposed to redefining their social and personal values often cling to familiar ways because they are laboring under some very false assumptions about their relationships to other people and about the way the world works.

My messages are about challenging the assumptions that we all hold dear and trying, in a very small way, to provide a foundational framework from which everyone could proceed. That framework is based on a reverence for life. Period. End of story. I maintain in all my commentaries that if we all started from that basic premise, the world would change overnight.

The reader who wrote me about preaching to the choir was also legitimately concerned that my direct and sometimes harsh reports would not get past the protective filters and programming of some people. I do not, however, worry about filters. Filters are part of the human condition. Everybody has filters based on their upbringing and subsequent assumptions and life experiences. Filters are the first reaction to anything. Whether that reaction generates initial agreement or disagreement is irrelevant.

When people have read the commentary, they will have been exposed to the point of view and it will be present in their minds. If they completely disagree, they may talk about how bad it was to their friends, not all of whom will agree with them. The more they talk about it, the more their minds will have a chance to process it and when they see other information that corroborates my ideas - which they always will - then they may ultimately begin questioning their assumptions.


Business meeting to plan photovoltaic solar cell projects at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) (Photo courtesy NREL)
Right wing, conservative, anti-environmental groups will often post my commentaries at their websites, accompanied with a biting diatribe condemning my conclusions. They will usually include a link to the original article, which I think is wonderful! In this way, many thousands of people who would never have been exposed to those views will have the opportunity to see that some people believe that there is another way.

For those who have already done some thinking about an issue, the commentaries may also be of value. Few people have figured out how to be totally consistent in their lives, nor have they explored the complete ramifications of the idea that we are all deeply interconnected. Few have even taken the time to understand what their own personal core values are.

Depression, confusion, and feelings that they are living double lives are rampant among people who are trying to be socially responsible. Every part of mainstream society works hard to make them feel alone, outcast, weak, and wrong.

I hope that by reading my commentaries, such folks will find assistance in 1) creating consistency in their lives, 2) seeing that it is OK to believe in what may not be popular, 3) creating ideas about what their core values could be, 4) seeing that it is OK to be angry when injustice is done, 5) believing that having a respect for all life is not an extreme point of view, and 6) believing that their individual voice matters and that millions of people are trying to do these things every day.

So, with these assumptions about my audience, I feel it is quite acceptable to be direct and blunt, wherever I can. I have no problem calling crop dusting bioterrorism or saying that pesticide poisoning is industry and government sanctioned murder. I firmly believe that the beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names.


Air pollution Czech Republic (Photo courtesy Plastiqueweb)
Other people can be the mediators, the peacemakers, and the arbitrators. I am not. My messages are strong and reflect the urgency I feel about the condition of the world and the condition of our own personal values. There are too many committees, task forces, research studies, and data collection projects in the world. We just need to stop hurting anyone of any species NOW.

As always, anyone is welcome to use that delete key or surf to another site. However, I have found over the years that folks with many different beliefs and values have found the commentaries of interest, and that the commentaries have challenged them to think in a way they had not before considered.

Most people have open minds that are searching for answers to the questions that plague our lives. Less than three percent of the population is motivated only by greed and selfishness. We only hear about them on the evening news, instilling a hopelessness that feels overwhelming.

But if we work together to hear the sound of the Earth crying, open our eyes to the suffering caused by that greed and indifference, and call things by their right name, then maybe together we can heal our world.


1. Polish your activist skills with the Protest.net Activist Handbook at: http://protest.net/activists_handbook/

2. Follow the actions of industry with Corporate Watch at: http://www.corpwatch.org/

3. Learn about scores of activist opportunities at: http://www.workingforchange.com/activism/index.cfm

4. Use your dollar as a potent activist tool. Check out Coop America's Boycott Action News at: http://www.coopamerica.org/boycotts/index.html

5. Keep an eye on the conservative efforts to undo the progress that has been made from the Conservative Caucus website at: http://www.conservativeusa.org/

6. Stay involved with the organic food movement at: http://www.purefood.org/index.htm

7. Keep track of corporate abuses through Corporate Watch at: http://www.corpwatch.org/

8. Make sure the Bush administration doesn't weaken the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Justice program. Watch it at: http://es.epa.gov/oeca/main/ej/index.html

9. Filter your media intake through Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting at: http://www.fair.org/

10. Change your food choices with the help of EarthSave at: http://www.earthsave.org/

11. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that they stay strong and work harder to protect our health, the environment and animal rights. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found trying to stay optimistic in a world cloaked in suffering. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}