Has your mother ever proclaimed in an exasperated tone, “mafy loha izany raha zaza!”? She meant it when she said this child is so stubborn! We all have heard that from our parents when they could not change our mind, or as parents ourselves, we have said that to our children because we just could not get them to think or act the way we want on things we think are good for them.
Today, the Malagasy are coming to grasps and yet struggling collectively with mindset as well as wanting to see Madagascar appreciate a real and sustainable development and progression. But the Malagasy seem to be “mafy loha” or hard-headed and stubborn. Discussions happening on the social medias, during family meetings, or during gatherings amongst friends, with topics covering the poverty in Madagascar, everybody agrees that one of the solutions, and probably the most important one, is the change in the Malagasy’s mentality. It is strange though to see that these discussions end at that stage as they rarely go on to ask further questions such as “changing the mentality from what stage to which one?” or “how to change the mentality?”, or “what does the Malagasy exactly need to change their mentality?”.
So we asked ourselves the question, how do we change the Malagasy mindset and why is it so hard to achieve? We have conducted research to see whether there are theories or experiments that would change the mentality of a society or a community, as a whole. Not surprisingly, much research is none existent.
Wouldn’t it be great if all the Malagasy’s mindset could be changed at once, just by magic? It is easier said than done because every member of the society knows they must work on their own mindset, and the degree of change differs from one person to another. Evidently, it requires a deep and thorough research to analyze the Malagasy case, therefore we are unable to say precisely what practice is the best for Madagascar. We then randomly chose ideas from researchers and tried to test if their theories would work or not on the Malagasy case.
Dave Paunesku, a senior behavioral scientist and researcher at Stanford University, proposes 5 strategies, which he collected from related publications, on how to change mindset. We will look at each one of them and give our comment on how they could apply to the Malagasy. Again, this is not a complete and exhaustive analysis but our interpretation with the Malagasy context.
If you want someone to transform — to adopt a new mindset or behavior — provide positive social models for the transformation you hope to see (Bandura, 1962)”. That would be, for example, having someone in the society showing that they can have a good life without using corruption. Who will be the models for the Malagasy here? Government officials? Social leaders? Artists? In this society where corruption is generalized, how many models do we need? A description of the transformation we want to see here is useful because there are many issues that need to be addressed besides corruption.
To get someone to do something new, convey the idea that most “people like them” are already doing it — or that there is a growing trend towards people doing it (Lewin, 1943)”.
This might work with the Malagasy society because the Malagasy like to watch what others do and copy them. More importantly, the Malagasy like newness. Everything that is new and used or practiced by the neighbor becomes a trend very quickly. The Malagasy jealousy could be a good lever here because it can trigger some change in behavior if exploited properly. It may even be unnecessary to show them that most “people like them” are already doing it. The mindset we wish to see here is for the Malagasy to celebrate with those who win instead of trying to take them down. Today, the Malagasy think that when they win, someone else has to lose. The real concern in this case is: what category of the Malagasy are the target? Rich? Poor? Middle class? Less educated? Urban population or farmers? The challenge is it probably would work better with change in behavior, but how do we get the Malagasy to think like how another one does?
People are more likely to be persuaded by messengers whose opinion seems credible on the topic at hand (e.g., Heesacker, Petty, & Cacioppo, 1983)”. The challenge for this strategy is the “credibility of an opinion”. It is an attribute that the Malagasy would not look at in the first place. They would rather pay attention to the messenger’s physical appearance and/or the social capital. In the eyes of the Malagasy, credibility of the person matters more than the credibility of the opinion, and that credibility is very much influenced by the prestige. A messenger who wears a tie and drives a fancy car could win the debate even if he/she knows nothing about what he/she is talking about. An important person in the society (a president, a priest, a chief of a village, …) may say something completely absurd and people would find it credible. And that disbelief has been misleading the Malagasy for years.
People don’t like it when somebody else tells them how to think, especially if it’s “for their own good.” If the persuadee suspects you’re trying to manipulate them, they are more likely to become defensive and to resist your persuasion attempts. This is a phenomenon called reactance (Brehm, 1966).”
In order to avoid reactance, it is recommended to put the person in a situation in which they will discover the new mindsets for themselves. That is, do not tell people directly that their thinking is wrong. The majority of the Malagasy population live in poverty, their mind is focused on “what to eat today”, and it has been like that for many years. So theoretically, they have been in a situation where they could have discovered themselves the right or wrong mindset. Wouldn’t it be easy then to redirect their mindset and avoid any reactance? Such is not the case, unfortunately. You can try with those who call themselves the “madinika” (the little ones= the poor) and you will realize how strong their stubbornness is. Maybe they have not been educated enough to react. We can argue here that the government has done little or nothing to help them or the government put them in that environment. But would you not do anything at all if the government does nothing?
People want to see themselves (and others they care about) in a positive light, and they resist persuasion if it paints them in a negative light.”
The idea here is to be lenient with the person’s past behavior and at the same time foster a change in the future. “That is, try to help them “save face” for past transgressions, but not for future transgressions.” We find it difficult and unacceptable to help someone save their face when they were corrupted and stole public funds. What’s worrisome in the Malagasy case is the lack of consciousness. People do not realize, or they deliberately ignore, the incorrectness and the gravity of their past behavior. In the cities, corruption seems to be the norms, and, in this habit, they do not feel the need to “save their face”. In the countryside, people seem to ignore that the conditions they live in are below acceptable. They are poor but they do not realize how poor they are. Needless to remind that the majority of the Malagasy in these conditions.
We all can agree that changing the Malagasy mentality is not going to be an easy task. Some observers argue that the only way to redirect this mentality is dictatorship or “enlightened dictatorship”. What do you think will work?