What is the relationship between emotions and change in society and organizations?
The movie “How to Change the World” presents us with two overarching themes that are displayed
as being in a constant state of war with each other: structure and emotion. Greenpeace is at its very
beginning and mostly just a group of people that are connected by their emotionally-driven intent to
change the environment for the better. They’re not organized in any fashion that goes further than
the day-to-day social dynamic and actually actively try to not establish a hierarchy. Greenpeace’s
most central player, Robert Hunter, even is in deep conflict at some ...view middle of the document...
On the other side, there’s structure. Society, cultural norms, corporations etc. operate by a set of
rules that is self-reinforcing and resistant to change. A scene that highlights the cage that structure
imposes on change of any kind particularly well is when the group of activists is approached by a
coast guard boat, who, alongside orders to stop their campaign, also sends a note that they’re
emotionally on their side, but can’t act on those emotions because of the limits imposed on them by
their position in the framework of society.
These two concepts of emotions and structure collide in a most understated way: the act of bearing
witness. Greenpeace intends to kick off change by planting a mind bomb, which means just showing
people pictures of atrocities and letting the emotions caused by seeing them fester and take hold as
new ideas and values within individuals. Most people knew about the facts that whale hunting or
seal clubbing are happening, but didn’t act on them, because those facts didn’t elicit a sufficient
emotional response. The mind bombs were supposed to change this. The institutional conflicts that
exist within individuals are expressed in this cognitive dissonance and Greenpeace was able to
generate social movement and institutional change just by leveraging the power of pictures that
display visuals of horrible events that didn’t enter the conscious minds before. Emotion, elicited by
the vehicle of visual impressions, was able to influence structures of the weight and momentum of a