The Mayday Experiment: What We Can Agree On

Talking with Donald at 48 Hours of Socially Engaged Art at RedLine.
Talking with Donald at 48 Hours of Socially Engaged Art at RedLine.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

The heart of the Mayday Experiment has always been about the conversations. The tiny house is the center of them, of course: It is the catalyst, a place to start.

But the fact is, I’ve been “practicing” the conversational aspect of this project throughout my life. Innumerable conversations with climate-change deniers – my family members among them – for over twenty years have given me a laboratory for failure. How do you convince someone that they are wrong? As myriad Facebook arguments across the land have taught far too many of us this political season, it’s nearly impossible.

In my imagination, the tiny house pulls up in a small town…in the perfect Baptist church parking lot, say, or at a farmers' market, or even just on the outskirts of a park where curious people could happen upon it. I don’t want to go to tiny-house festivals or leftie gatherings in general and waste time on affirming head-nods from the converted: I want to find people who don’t believe in climate change, and then have a different conversation.

For those of us who believe in science, the frustration is immense as we watch politicians kick the can down the road — or worse, hasten our planetary demise with shady favors to the petrochemical giants. We are beginning to see the ocean’s rise, the disappearance of species, the weather shift to frightening new patterns and proportions. But still, there are those who think it’s merely strange weather, and even those who are so hostile to this notion that they defiantly “roll coal” as a protest response, fouling our shared air with black puffs from specially rigged truck tailpipes.

When I began the Mayday Experiment, it was out of a desire to do one main thing: to stop having these arguments. To start having conversations, approached with respect, and find areas of agreement. It wasn't impossible, was it? I had already begun the process with family members with whom I'd long been locked in disagreement, feeling my way toward a strategy.

Conversations at RedLine.
Conversations at RedLine.
Lisa Gedgaudas

First of all, we have a problem in this country with confusing “fact” and “belief.” Fact: This is the warmest year on record. Belief: It’s just the weather, which has always changed. The difference between these two is that the fact is measurable. But in a country with such weakened educational standards that our textbooks have become politicized, fractious battlegrounds for the truth, we no longer seem to possess even the same units of measurement. Our conversation is broken.

Beliefs are the realm of religion and superstition, not science. And yet, regardless how factual your approach, it is nearly impossible to argue in the negative: That you are NOT a “believer,” but approaching something from a scientific perspective. Because these days, science is considered a “belief,” too – evidence that is typically cited by those who think that science has a changeable nature, that it only comprises theories, that what was believed thirty years ago was wrong. We’ve all heard these arguments, often put forward by punditry, but rather than an indictment, they are couched in the truth that makes science what it is: Theories must be proven, and sometimes they are wrong. The very nature of science is what makes it open to this doubt by people with no exposure to scientific methodology.

But I believe this misunderstanding is at the heart of the solution. If we believe someone else is acting out of belief, as in the case of religion, we try to operate with respect and understanding – at least, if we are people who are operating under the principals of trying to foster a more peaceful world and generally trying to be decent and kind. Mutual respect creates a space for listening. Instead of telling someone that they’re stupid or crazy, or citing the “97 percent of scientists” statistic (which still, apparently, leaves too much room for error), what if we took people’s beliefs seriously and offered them respect? What if we simply presented our evidence and talked about what we could agree on?

In reality, most people want the same things. We can agree that air is easier to breathe when it is clean. No one likes a dirty river. Most people wouldn’t be happy if you threw trash in their yard. Whether or not you believe radiation is a danger, not too many people would be eager to dine on fruit from Fukushima. No one but the cruelest capitalist could look upon an oil-drenched bird and remain unmoved. So even though 25 percent of the population still doesn’t believe in global warming, it’s safe to assume that most people wouldn’t welcome a toxic waste dump as a neighbor. On that most of us can agree, even if it doesn’t get out of the trap of NIMBYism. Since we don’t have time to argue and need people on board to create effective change, maybe focusing on points of agreement is the most politically expedient thing.

Yesterday morning, utilizing this strategy for the first time, I managed to change someone’s mind in the time it took to drive across downtown Denver. Just like that. And no one’s voice was raised. No one got upset.

Like oil and water.
Like oil and water.

Taking a Lyft to Denver Startup Week, I remarked on my driver’s pink shirt, sharing my opinion that most men look good in pink. “You know,” I told him, “the Victorians felt that pink was for boys and blue was for girls. Pink has been stolen from guys by a marketing scheme!”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, just like that global warming…just a bunch of marketing to make money!”

I laughed and skipped a beat, confused…. ”Wait,” I asked, tentatively, "are you serious? You really don’t believe in global warming?”

He engaged in a friendly rant, saying he didn’t believe Obama and didn’t hear enough scientists speaking up, and that he thought it was an excuse for more big government lining its pockets. He’d looked at weather patterns since the 1950s, and he didn’t see any big problem – things change, right? It had to be all about the money!

After politely listening, rather than delving deeper into this logic, I just asked, plainly, “Do you want to know why I believe in global warming?”

After he gave the go-ahead, I told him about being in grad school, where my studio was across the street from the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State University. I told him about going over with my camera and having a friendly scientist give me a tour, showing me the dark line that marks the Industrial Revolution, comparing it to Mt. St. Helen, showing me the bubbles where everything from the AIDS virus to the bubonic plague had been found. I told him about the hallway filled with a gradient of pictures through time, black and white to digital, from the same angle, with a retreating glacier revealing long-ago frozen plants for carbon dating. And then I asked him, “Do you drive in the winter?”

He said he did, and I talked about the clumps of snow gathering soot by the side of the road, and even he could not deny that the black areas melted faster, absorbing the heat while the white areas rose in tiny pointed peaks above. The logic of it made sense to him: Since black absorbs heat and white reflects it, then if soot is on the ice all over the world, as could be seen clearly in the long tubes of ice in the basement of Byrd, wouldn’t it be melting? And if the ice is melting, then wouldn’t the water be rising? And if there is more water, which acts as a heat-sink on the planet just as a puddle of water warms in the sun, then wouldn’t the planet be getting warmer? All of this is observable, and part of what we know about the natural world just from living in it. Absent politics, absent scientists, the same knowledge we gained playing outside as children is embedded within us. Gravity exists, whether we have a name for it or not. Water is warmed by the sun. Dirty ice melts faster.

He couldn’t deny that was possible. I told him of the recent news that three of the biggest insurance companies in the world were calling on world leaders at the G20 in China to stop bankrolling big oil and get to work, because it was going to cost them too much. So if they weren’t making money…who was?

We turned from 14th Street onto Curtis and pulled up in front of the Curtis Hotel, and my driver, Shawn, turned and said to me, “I want to thank you for this – I’m glad I picked you up this morning, I feel like I learned something! Maybe this does make sense…I’m going to look into it more.” We shook hands and said we hoped we’d see one another again, and had a friendly goodbye and a five-star rating to exchange.

I was flabbergasted. It worked! With the tiny house or away from it, it’s clear to me: The conversation is the thing.

Speaking of conversations: The Mayday Experiment will be appearing at the eighth annual Titwrench music festival in RiNo as an auxiliary stage! Come watch amazing ladies rock it out in the tiny house, where I will speak and answer questions at 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 17. 

The Mayday Experiment: What We Can Agree On
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging about her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.


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