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This chapter is from the book

Deadly Sin #5: Nagging

A local activist gave me a piece of advice once: He always bulk-emails supporters about an event a month before it happens, then again two weeks before it happens, then a week before it happens, and then every day of the week up until the day it happens. Then he sends out one last invite two hours before the event happens and another update the next day announcing how great the event was.

Yeah, you probably shouldn't do that.

Online communication is the most convenient way to nag somebody. Unlike telephoning, it does not require one-on-one time—you can contact people in bulk. And unlike snail mail letters, postcards, and such, it costs nothing, arrives instantly, and does not require any real prep time. So the temptation is certainly there to bug people constantly, to keep your events and causes on their minds, and up to a certain point this is very beneficial to your cause. But there is a point of diminishing return.

Exactly how much nagging is too much? It's hard to say, which is why listening is important. If people who are participating in the organization—and I mean people who actually participate because anybody can sit on the sidelines and criticize—express concerns that they're receiving way too much email, it's probably best to back it down.

Tone is also important. People don't usually want to attend events that they associate with negative feelings and drama. If attendance at the last monthly meeting was lower than you think it should have been, berating your supporters en masse is a bad idea because they don't really owe you anything. It's not that they're not committed activists, necessarily, but people can choose many, many avenues to make the world a better place; why pick one that involves failure, shame, and verbal abuse? So be positive. As one old midrash tells us: "Angels do not lie, but neither are they stupid." Several years ago I organized a meeting for local writers at a coffee shop, and only six people showed up. I'd promoted the event online and was disappointed in the low turnout, but the way I described it was that the meeting was a success (which it was, given an appropriately scaled definition of success) and that we had difficulty finding enough seats to accommodate the number of people who showed (which we did because we were sitting on the patio and there was a concert inside). I'm not saying you should spin things that much, but what you say about an event—before and after—should ideally make people a little bit excited. It should make them want to show up to future events so they don't miss out on the experience.

If people are treated in a hostile way by a movement, it can create unintended side effects. Christopher Hitchens was regarded as a liberal, but the international Left's response to the 9/11 attacks—which sometimes vilified the United States, portraying it as a worthy target—made it easier for him to become a neoconservative. And Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), a leader in the American conservative movement, was a nominal Democrat until a passage in a Gore Vidal book, criticizing the Founding Fathers, made her question her party's commitment to classical liberal philosophy. This shouldn't inspire anyone to be more centrist or moderate than they are in their personal beliefs—people should speak what they consider to be the truth without fear that it might turn others off—but when you're doing activism, it pays to be strategic and think of how your audience is likely to react. If the gut-level impression you give potential supporters is that you're angry and negative, it will almost certainly make them less likely to take your cause seriously.

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