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Image Issues: The Struggles of Varied Bases

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

In an interview on Fresh Air today there was a discussion on the NRA’s evolution through history. Though largely geared towards recent events and records of activism, there was a brief mention of an “image crisis” that came up near the end of the interview. Gross posed a question of Spitzer that considered the NRA’s member base and its varied directions of activism. Spitzer reflected on the varied demographics of NRA membership and the wealth of concerns that comes from such a varied base of support. Unlike some groups which form on the basis of a common goal, the NRA is formed on the basis of a common interest and draws in members from the multitude of niches in society.

This issue of “image confusion” that comes from a varied member base made me muse on the reasons why we form groups and the features of our more successful alliances. I came to the conclusion that the key feature of group formation is a common goal. Groups are formulated when a common need exists and the formation of the group appears to be the best remedy. This “common need” varies from group to group, ranging from political to personal but always centering on a common need among the individuals in the group. The individuals come together in order to remedy the common need and formulate the group as a device of intervention.

It should be no surprise that groups created to remedy a simple problem are more popular and more successful. As with all things a clarity of focus creates an environment where individuals can gauge their interests and efficiently provide their services to the group. The fewer goals a group has the easier it is for each member to get involved. Likewise the tendency for success decreases as this focus disappears. In order for a group to accomplish its goal it must have a clear focus of intent.

These areas of focus can range from simple social provisions to political activities. A group like a bowling league has a focused goal and each member gauges interest on the basis of this need. If a potential bowler wants to socialize he or she joins the group. This focused “provision to need” is simple and involves a minor sacrifice. Groups that have these simple needs are popular, just note the number of communities have a weekly bowling league. Seek to trace the rates of animal activism in a community and you will find less interest and a more diverse collection of individuals.

Group success is largely tied to the simplicity of message. Groups that strive for large goals like the NRA and PETA face an increased challenge on the basis of their large, broad goals. When a group strives for major change it faces challenges beyond just the task it sets before itself. A group needs to consider the perspective of the “interested outsider.” What types of considerations will this outsider muse on before joining the group? Often it will be a process of seeking out common points of interest. An individual joins a group on the basis of the “remedy of a need” mentioned above. If a group presents to lofty goals, intentions that are too broad or that demand too much from members will often scare individuals away.

I feel the NRA struggles from this difficulty. Of course the NRA membership remains strong but this is largely a response to concern for second amendment rights. For the NRA the notion of “new member dissonance” mentioned above comes in the form of the outsiders who turn away. These are the non gun owners or the figures in society whose concern for constitutional rights is the stronger motivation than gun control. Many are indifferent to guns but feel incredibly passionate about protecting the constitutional rights we currently possess. I feel that many Americans hold a great fear of figures who aim to trim the Constitution and see our founding document like a bonsai tree that isn’t perfect but a highly crafted work in progress.

The NRA and groups with similarly scaled goals would be better served by recognizing the diversity of their message. A simplification of presentation (key here: not goals or direction) would bring in additional support. Communication is the key. Complicated goals and multiple directions of activism can be successful but a failure to convey a simple message to the outside world alienates would-be supporters. The NRA has a major support base whose only hesitation comes from confusion over image. Too many figures work to define the NRA and it takes just one clash to send a potential supporter away. Image control is critical; its devise is communication clarity.

In order for groups like the NRA to interact successfully with the outside world, there need to be an active consideration of public goals and message. Groups that have focused goals framed on connecting with the common notions of outsiders is critical for gaining support. This isn’t a diluting of message; instead it is a refinement of goals that communicates with the general public of common goals and features. The critical factor when interacting with the public is the clean, friendly face. The public can understand different perspectives and as long as a group’s goals are focused and rationally founded the American public will both tolerate and, in some cases, celebrate the civic activity.

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  1. January 27, 2011 at 5:46 PM

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