One phenomenon that is inevitable in life is change. Change can take a number of shapes and forms that often seeks to create a new way of living that is completely different from that which preceded it. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, attempts to tackle the issue of social change in his detailed essay titled “From Civil Rights to Megachurches”. He seeks to examine all the mechanisms that are in play when fostering community ties and essentially mobilizing social change on a large-scale basis. In his essay, he is categorical in asserting that relationships (strong or distant) which he terms as strong and weak ties have the ability to create a “social habit” which will then be capable of driving goal-oriented, cohesive and sustainable movements. According to Duhigg, “[m]ovements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self (Duhigg 102). For the purpose of this essay, an analysis of both the strong and weak points from his essay will be provided with the investigation with the into a social change, and all those ties that are behind it. The social change aspect will focus on Helen Epstein’s approach to lower the rate of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in South Africa draw from her essay, AIDS, Inc. in The Invisible Cure.
Part three of The Power Habit by Charles Duhigg delves deep the process of social change by launching the narrative of the birth of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It was on dreary winter day in Montgomery, Alabama on 1st December 1955 when the social rights movement gained traction when Rosa Parks put up an act of defiance in refusing to give her seat up to a white man as was required by law. Duhigg uses his extensive knowledge in history to help the reader understand why it was this particular action involving Rosa Parks in a public bus that set the Civil Rights Movement in motion. Before this particular incident, there were others that had occurred, for instance, that of Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, that had led to their arrest but none that had rallied the African American Community in Montgomery, Alabama under one banner as did the Civil Rights Movement, bound to make noticeable changes in United States as far as discriminatory laws were concerned. One of the prominent idea that is apparent from this chapter is that of the existence of weak and strong ties among individuals in a community. “Weak ties” are responsible for the powerful beginnings of a social movement. These ties are seen in Rosa Park’s case through the friends that she had from all social strata and a large range of contact that by far exceeded that of preceding African American rebels(Duhigg 217). It is the peer pressure that originates from these seemingly weak and strong ties, in the long run, brings into effect the societal changes that specific members of the society long for. Another pertinent example provided is that of Rick Warren who was fresh from seminary and with an undying intention to start a church congregation within a community that had a religious base. He utilizes the weak and strong ties in his quest to encourage attendance and participation that later on makes his ministry one of the largest in the United States and the world.
Duhigg’s model can be used in a wide range of scenarios to set in motion the societal changes that are required to create a sustainable world. A epidemic that had ravaged the world, and mostly in Africa where it was not well understood was HIV/AIDS. In The Invisible Cure, Epstein makes a sensible commentary about an issue that had troubled experts, especially due to its spread all over the African continent in a very short period. She combines her scientific knowledge with a journalistic perspective in providing an impartial view of the social and political landscape in Africa that has seen the spread of this killer disease. She, first of all, takes issue with how the epidemic has been handled, bringing to light the situation in South Africa where the infection rates seemed to be growing by the day. What further exacerbated this current state of affairs was that the government did not want to look into the provision of anti-retroviral drugs to those infected as it saw this as controversial according to African terms. Although information was there in the public domain as to how one could get infected and the available ways to prevent infection, the number of new cases of the disease that were emerging every day seemed to imply that the message was not quite getting through to the target audience. The Kaiser Family Foundation from the United States stepped into the fray in 1999 with the sole aim of dealing with this menace once and for all, instituting a social change that would lead to greater awareness among those at risk.
LoveLife, an initiative that was started in the country also followed suit in dealing with this menace by first including those who were already infected into their program. These people would work hand in hand with LoveLife in spreading information about HIV/AIDS all over South Africa, and especially to the youth who were very much in risk due to the vulnerability of individuals from their demographic. It was easier for individuals from this group to be coerced or lured into risky sexual behavior, especially by those who were well off and could offer gifts or money in return for the sexual favors that they will provide them with. Duhigg’s model appears to have been used in this case when the supposed weak link was first exploited. It was a widely known fact all over South Africa that HIV/AIDs was a menace in South Africa with the commercials speaking on this issue providing perspectives that seemed depressing to a wide majority of the young people (Invisible Cure : Africa, the West, and the Fight against Aids 67). What Lovelife did, was to transform these dull preventative campaigns into modern persuasive campaigns had the ability to positively impact the lives of the youth in South Africa. These campaigns now included figures and language that they could readily relate wit which made the dissemination of this information easier. The strong link was then exploited when individuals created “lifestyle brand” campaigns that were meant to bring the population that was at risk to making a paradigm shift and viewing positive behavior as being “cool” (Invisible Cure : Africa, the West, and the Fight against Aids 80).. From billboards, television and radio stations that were presenting this information, an air of hip modernity could be gathered from the campaigns that were now all over the country. These organizations were largely successful in their quest because they were able to investigate the social habits and analyze those weak and strong ties that were present in the society. The new self-identities that were create were able bring the community together and in essence propelling them towards the same trajectory of the much needed social change.
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