In the age of outrage, it’s important to know the difference between a marathon and a sprint. This is especially true if you hope to be heard by your fellow human beings, and if you hope to galvanize them to action. Whoever you are, and whatever your cause, you must never forget that for all practical purposes, you are speaking directly into the blasting stream of a fire hose. Always. If you fail to accommodate this reality, the best you have to offer will end as nothing more than a wet spot on the pavement.
There are many facets to this reality, but there are three that I believe are the most important.
First – the fire hose. Every 24 hours, human beings create more “content” than the human race is capable of consuming in that 24-hour period. Technology makes it possible to create and disseminate information (text, photos, video, audio, paper, etc.) in almost unlimited volume. However, human beings are not technological. We actually have finite, physical limitations. We have to sleep, for example, and we aren’t able to consume content while we are asleep. [Thank God.]
Do you understand what this means? It means that every single person you are trying to speak to is already standing in that high-power stream of information, already unable to process all of it, already liking posts they haven’t read, already reacting to headlines without even reading the byline. It’s not because they are bad, stupid, or malicious. It’s because they are finite. We are not physically able to take in everything we encounter any more. There’s too much of it.
Second – the inner fire hose. We are designed to respond. We are designed to have thoughts and feelings about all that we encounter in our world. So every drop of water that hits us in that blast causes our inner self to try for a response. We try to understand, to laugh, to grieve, to come up with an action plan, to stop the madness. We try to do all those things, more and more frantically, faster and faster, until we’ve been driven out of our capacity. We can’t make meaning fast enough. We just can’t.
Third – self-awareness and need. It’s easy to log in, look around, and judge every person you see. They should know! They should care! They should act – the way you want them to act! Your need for their response is powerful because your cause is important. How can they fail to respond? Why doesn’t it matter that your cause is important? Why doesn’t it matter that you have facts and experience to back it up? Because they are exhausted. Their brains and their hearts are completely overwhelmed, and you have become just one more loud sound that they are painfully unable to cope with.
When this happens, nobody wins. Relationships are damaged, and that important cause you care about hasn’t been helped.
I come from a long line of cause-supporters, idealists, arguers, warriors, and champions. One of the things I hate most on earth is a situation I can’t fix.
So “give up” is not the answer. But what is?
My first response is, we’ll have to wait and see. This fire hose is a relatively new situation. We didn’t have it before we had the internet. But it changed everything.
My second response is, marketing can teach you a lot about how human beings communicate with each other. I’ve spent the last year learning about marketing, and the most fascinating aspect is how closely marketing trends mirror our common psychological experience of daily life, for good or evil.
Marketers now will tell you that “everyone” is not your market. There is too much “everyone” to actually reach any more. The only way to be effective is to find your very small, extremely well-defined niche, and fill it with all your heart, mind, and strength.
Find your niche. You can’t save the world. You actually can’t. Let that go. Find the one piece of the world you can do something about, and do it. Do that one thing, and then do the next one thing.
Bloom where you’re planted.