Humility helps!

Looking at the bigger picture makes solidarity-based decisions more likely

In recent years, the concept of humility has gained importance not only in management, but also in political and social communication.

"Humility" in this context means knowing one's own strengths/weaknesses, appreciating others, being willing to learn and be open, and understanding that we are only a small part of a bigger picture.

My study shows the powerful effects of humility by using a concrete example: an appeal to humility, in this case to the bigger picture, measurably increases the willingness to have wind turbines built close to one’s home. 

Compared to the control group, people who adopt a broader perspective are twice as willing to fully agree to construction. Additional supporters can be gained if the benefits of this intervention for future generations are made clear. Next to the bigger picture, financial self-interest also plays a major role.

Let us dive into the details: In January 2022, 200 respondents answered the following question on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = "Definitely not" to 4 = "Definitely yes"):

  • Researchers agree that to address climate change, we need to build at least 1,500 new wind turbines per year by 2030.
  • How much would you be willing to have a wind turbine built within sight and hearing distance, on the roof of a house, in a field, or on a hill in front of your apartment or house about 400 meters away? 

In the control questionnaire, only 16 percent definitely agreed with construction.

In addition, there were three other version of the questionnaire with the following additions.:

Version 1: "Self-interest":

  • "Everyone who agrees to the construction of a wind turbine within sight and hearing distance will earn approx. 200 - 400 € per year from the energy production." 

Now more than twice as many 34%, definitely agreed.

Version 2: "Bigger picture made vivid":

  • "Perhaps you remember how many electricity lines crossed the fields and meadows above ground in the seventies to nineties and disfigured the countryside? Today, more than 80 percent of them are buried underground. The same can be expected for wind turbines, that their power can be replaced step by step by other less ugly as well as quieter energy sources. By putting up with a decade or two of nuisance, you are contributing to the bigger picture - the future of the planet and your home."

Here, also more than twice as many 33%, also definitely agreed.

Version 3: "Bigger picture - focus on own loss:

  • "Please bring to your mind's eye what you value on our planet in terms of nature and civilization. What would you miss particularly if it were destroyed or lost? Please note this here."

70 percent of the participants mentioned nature as well as their joy when in nature. 30 percent named people or culture. The focus on the "beauty” of nature and their personal delight in it actually reduced the level of agreement.

Only 18 percent definitely agreed to wind turbines being built

Below you can see the results at one glance

In the additional question for the undecided/negative, the focus on the bigger picture was again the most promising approach:

if it becomes clear how the next generation will benefit, another 46 percent change their answer to a sure vote in favor!

Call to Action

When it comes to the upcoming climate change, in order to strengthen acceptance for difficult societal decisions, there must be a strong appeal not only to self-interest, but also to humility in the form of a vividly depicted bigger picture.