This 👇 is what prevents action

I remember watching a Vice documentary about a KKK rally in Memphis. But this email isn’t about that rally. It’s about a moment (almost unremarkable) at the end of the video.


A journalist is talking to a young man who had organized a counter-protest on the same day, but didn’t follow through with the plan.


I wanted to know why. The cause was seemingly immensely personal. One could take his reasoning at face value – “It was raining”. But it is often the case that simple excuses cover up reasons that are harder to explain for someone making a decision.


So what stops someone from donating, volunteering, or otherwise participating, and how can we fix it? Here’s an explanation:


What stops people from participating?


Sociologist Stephen Cole wrote a paper examining why tendency did not necessarily translate to action when it came to a teacher’s strike in 1962 (oldie but a goodie). 


If we think of someone’s tendencies as a constant (ex. They are likely to vote Democratic), the remaining factors that affect a person’s actions are sociological (human behaviour and relationships on a societal level). 

An important concept here: cross-pressures. I.e. Conflicting influences on an individual’s behaviour. Social cross pressures arise from interactions with others in one’s social network. Issue cross-pressures come from holding non-traditional views.


Cross-pressure has been found to lead to a decrease in participation among individuals. People care about how the real, social world will react to the decisions they make.


In the case of the teacher’s strike, everything from whether the majority of an individual’s friends/colleagues supported the strike, and the fear of sanctions, influenced whether they joined the strike or crossed the picket line.


What can we do with that information?


Two things that can be done:


  • We can try to predict and work around it (this is relatively easier)
  • We can try to influence it (this is harder)

Failure to do one or the other can lead to disappointment. Take Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election. In some swing states, the margin of support for Clinton among Millennials was almost 20% lower than it was for Obama in the previous election.


Among other reasons, this could be traced back to her campaign’s failure to account for and address the influence of cross-pressures (ex. Fear of judgment) on voting blocs that would typically be considered Democratic.  


To quote a DNC staffer: “They were too reliant on analytics and not enough on instinct and human intel from the ground.


Here’s how you can influence cross-pressure

  1. Communicate that the benefit to the individual taking an action will outweigh any social push-back.
  2. Promote the idea of a rational discussion on the action you want members of a social group to take.


At a small scale, you could make it a point to ask contacts to spread the word about your cause or product to their circles of family, friends, or colleagues.


Not only does engaging more people within a social group expand your foundation of influence, it also solidifies it.



To come back to our initial example of the counter-protest, we might be able to figure out some cross-pressures that led to the plan falling through (How will my community react?). With all that being said, it could have just been the rain. 😉

See you next time,