Collage by Suzanne LaGrande ©2021

Desperately Seeking Better Solutions

Changing them won’t make the difference:Changing ourselves will.

When I taught Public speaking, one of the assignments was to do a persuasive speech and include a call to action — something that those who were convinced by the speaker could do to show their support.

I noticed that the solutions to problems most often took the form of creating a new law, rule or requirement or stronger punishment to compel people to change their behavior.

Students gravitated to these solutions because these were also the kind of solutions most frequently offered by politicians and political movements.

It struck me that most of the solutions to our serious most problems are short sighted and very likely to fail.


Because coercion is the least effective way of compelling someone to do something. Those of you who have children know this. You can try punishment or threats once or twice but if that is the only strategy you have it will cease being effective pretty quickly.

The same is true for adults. You can rob someone once with a gun once, but if you want to extract money from them on a regular basis, you’re going to have to create an elaborate system that normalizes robbery and prevents alternative ways of dealing with the situation ( calling the cops — assuming they would help not make the situation worse — disarming the robber, turning the gun on the robber, walking away, to name a few).

Most of the forms of coercion we experience we do not call coercion. We spend a lot of energy trying to conform to other people’s agendas. When we follow rules or enforce them, when we try, with the best of intentions to change someone else, when we mistreat ourselves or accept mistreatment because the alternative fills us with fear, we forcing ourselves or others to do what we think is best.

Coercion is ineffective because it creates resistance. When you force someone to do something they rebel on principle, even if they might agree with you otherwise.

Coercion requires constant administration. To continually make a threat credible, you either have to escalate the threat, (or increase the punishment) or introduce a new credible threat.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain control in this way. It’s exhausting and traumatizing for everyone involved. Just think about the last four years. Everything is reduced to zero sum games, where we tear each other to pieces for the best of the worst options

Those who seek to change the society for the better solutions involving punishment are using the masters tools to try to dismantle the master’s house.

Maybe it’s time we stopped trying to punish those we want to change. They may never change or agree with us. And maybe we don’t need them to agree in order to create the change we want to see in the world.

We have to do the harder but ultimately more satisfying work of making our visions real. That’s how a real revolution is achieved, no coercion needed.



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Suzanne LaGrande

Suzanne LaGrande

Writer, artist, host of Disobedient Femmes & The Voice Plays podcasts. Interested in personal transformation & collective liberation.