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Putting Your Heart Into It

Caroline Jaine's picture

As I write this I realise that my favourite reference book on “Hearts & Minds” was stolen some months back.   I will persevere nevertheless.  As usual, I have something on my mind and having one foot in academic reference could distract me from an eloquent rant.

I am almost as tired of the misuse of the term “hearts and minds” as I am about the generic tossing of the words “strat-com” around the media centre - without applying its meaning.  We are told of its importance in communications (particularly when policies begin to fail), but few think deeply or employ it properly.  Perhaps because no-one has articulated what hearts and minds means (or strat-com for that matter). Google tells me:

• It's a euphemism for a campaign by the United States military during the Vietnam War, intended to win the popular support of the Vietnamese people
• It's a public relations campaign used in the Iraq War (it’s where I first came across it used by mass media as they recorded flowers being thrown on tanks)
• It's a military strategy of using the armed forces to provide medical and other assistance to the local population in or near a war zone, to encourage support for the war effort. 

And a number of films and TV shows have taken the name.

Perhaps the trick to understanding the term lies in successfully separating hearts from minds.  In my own crude dissection, I quickly see that efforts to bring about positive change in challenging environments have traditionally focused almost wholly on the “minds” bit. 

At the risk of sounding like a communications “guru” in the truest sense – I propose that “hearts” is about passion, about tears of joy – it’s what has driven millions to tune into the World Cup this month (soccer the most popular sport in the world).  It’s about the spiritual high you get when watching your favourite musicians perform.  It’s about travelling on a religious pilgrimage.  It’s about love, birth, death, family, culture.  Things that light fires in our souls.  Things we would move the earth for – or dance in the streets for.

Medical and humanitarian assistance referenced above, could be considered a “hearts” activity where the situation is imminently life threatening certainly, but practical assistance in general seems to me like a minds activity.  As is road building, supporting good governance, capacity building or journalists or policemen or teachers.  Minds is about positive and useful reconstruction – but it is without passion.  And those that face death or starvation due to economic collapse could consider job creation and business investment a hearts activity – but otherwise I’d set it in the practical “minds” side. All essential building blocks to help societies recover, but not really “hearts”. 

It is the hearts bit that drives change – it’s the spark that ignites it and brings the “minds” bit alive - but it is quite often missed from government and organizational programmes.  I think this is largely because the influential power of sport, the arts and culture is often missed, or seen as a fluffy luxury.  Sometimes it’s because in the past hearts activity has been misguided and although can generate a spirit of hope – without a minds strategy it amounts to no real change. In my line of business “hearts” is rarely seen as “real” work.  Perhaps an assessment of past regimes and leaders who have sought to oppress music, sport and culture could give us some clues.  Someone has worked out the power of it.

I hope that the World Cup will change that.  I challenge anyone not to have been moved by the opening ceremony and not to understand what positive change has been bought to South Africa as a result.  Ever since I witnessed first hand a racist white south African tell me that Mandella was “ok really” after seeing him wearing that Springbocks shirt, my mind was made up.  Sport really is able to move the immovable and stop the unstoppable. 

Recently, I have been involved in the Not in My Game campaign which promotes a rejection of terrorism through sport – a legitimate and emotive context given that both the Togo football team and the Sri Lankan cricket team have fallen victim to extremist attacks in very recent times.  As a cricket fan, it saddens me that the Pakistan cricket team are no longer able to play their game at an international level in their own country (the sadness only softened by the fact that they have chosen my home, England, to play their matches). I see real potential for using a sport like cricket – which arouses such passion and support and yet is perceived as fair and gentlemanly-like to challenge terrorism.   For those that need persuading, take a look at the new movie by Oscar winner Mendes about the Afghan cricket team.  Out of the Ashes tells the emotive story of a team defeating all odds to play at international level.

By putting “hearts and minds” together you get far more than a PR initiative, you get  meaningful change.  But you need  minds – the cerebral, and hearts – the desire in equal measures.

Perhaps the theft of my “hearts and minds” book is an eloquent metaphor perhaps for organisational approach to such initiatives – there is much rhetoric on using “hearts and minds” initiatives, but often the tools are missing.


Photo Credit: Flickr user bertrudestein

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