Two recent national events - the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds and the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling - got me thinking about the factors that cause a "Tipping Point." Both seemed to happen very quickly. But if you examine the underlying factors and circumstances surrounding these moments in time, you'll quickly find that the events don't happen in a vacuum.
In the United States, tipping points tend to have a few things in common:
- National support
- Powerful and influential supporters
- Groups working on behalf of the cause - even when it's not in the news
- People who have been on the "other side" and convert to the "Tipping side"
- Some sort of legal action or political consequences
Both the Confederate flag and the marriage equality issues certainly have all of these characteristics. Marriage equality advocates have been diligently working their legal strategy, state by state. This tipping point definitely was years in the making. Many, many small legal victories and setbacks happened along the way. The Supreme Court ruling was the "last bean on the pile."
The Confederate flag's removal was also years in the making, but had a different kind of tipping point. The massive "change of heart" caused by the murder of nine people in a Charleston church tipped the political climate in the state. State leaders who could not politically utter the words "take the flag down" before the tragedy now found themselves on the wrong side of the issue. Taking advantage of the new public awareness and sentiment, they ran to the other side of the seesaw.
It always feels great to be vindicated and be on the "winning" side of a tipping point. But what if you're on the "losing" side?
Here's some advice:
- Prepare: If at all possible, have a discussion about what is happening and discuss ways to respond. Don't shut down people who disagree with your viewpoint. Let everyone have a chance to contribute.
- Pivot: This requires specific words that you will use to communicate to your constituencies. In Alabama and Louisiana, it's apparent to me that many county marriage licensing clerks have not had any leadership on this matter. Their willingness to break the law and embarrass themselves and their state is not a sign of good communication.
- Be gracious: It's not a good idea to pout. A tipping point is just like a game of Spill the Beans. Once the beans are spilled - they don't have a chance of going back. Our society changes slowly over time, but occasionally it's punctuated by memorable events that forever change the landscape.
Always remember - the one thing that remains constant is change. Be prepared. Use your words.
Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa.