Greta Thunberg: the 15 year old who created a storm

Swedish parliamentary elections are 3 weeks away. It’s August of 2018. Outside the parliament you find one lone 15 year old girl who has bunked school. She stands there holding a protest sign: “School Strike for Climate.”

To young Greta it makes sense. What’s the point of going to school if climate change is going to make the future unlivable? The politicians had to address climate change. Urgently.

One single child striking against the political machine gets a lot of passers by to click her photos and share it on social media. Soon the media outlet “Dagens Nyheter” covers Greta. Other media outlets pick up the story. Greta’s fame spreads. And her strike becomes a movement.

Even after the Swedish elections, Greta continues bunking school every Friday and going on a protest. And other kids join her. And then other kids started protesting in other parts of the world on Fridays by skipping school.

Greta Thunberg becomes the face of the movement. Times Magazine calls her the person of the year in 2019. People nominate her for the Nobel Peace prize. She is called at the UN to give an address to all the politicians.

One courageous 15 year old started a storm and attracted the attention of the whole world. Because, unknowingly, she stumbled upon the stratagem:

To draw a crowd, start a fight.

It’s what the saloons did in the wild west in America. They paid a few drunkards to fake fight and create a commotion. Because fights always always draw a crowd. And some folks from the crowd would then spend their money at the saloon.

Whenever we see a protest, our curious nature wants us to know more about the injustice. The novelty of it attracts us to the spectacle like light attracts moths. Our sense of drama makes us remain glued to the commotion till the tension is resolved. Our social nature wants us to take sides and form groups. Fights are powerful mechanisms to pull out our emotions and make us pay attention.

Muhammad Ali before he was the world’s greatest

Cassius Clay had a fight against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. The only problem? No one knows who Cassius Clay is! 

So what does Clay do? He provokes Liston who is much more popular. Calls him an ugly bear. Brags and predicts when he will knock him out. Creates an uproar outside Liston’s house. Starts a fight outside before their fight in the ring.

The press eats it up and makes Cassius Clay famous! It was fortunate for Clay to have the skills to back his big mouth up. But however good Cassius Clay was inside the ring, he would not have been as famous without his antics outside of the boxing ring!

Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, would not have become as famous without picking fights with all his opponents!

The first step to winning attention: define your enemy

Define your enemy. Say what you stand against. Take your stance. Draw your sword.

But aren’t fights divisive?

Isn’t peace better and more unifying and healing? Isn’t cooperation a better way to grow? 

In the 1940s, the Americans and the Russians joined forces to fight against the Nazis. As soon as Hitler was defeated, the capitalists and communist blocks were formed and Germany divided. They had joint forces, not for a peaceful Europe. But against the cruel Nazis. 

It’s in our nature to be excited and unite against a common enemy. Far more so than to unite for a common good. That’s the same reason why the Indian sub-continent got divided into India and Pakistan – “after” the British decided to leave. They were united till they were against the British. But they could not remain united even for a lofty idea like freedom.

As un-intuitive as it is, being against a cause is more unifying than being for a cause.

That’s why, define your enemy. Take a stand “against.”

How to define enemies

It was easy for Muhammad Ali to define his enemy – as it was his opponent. But what if your opponent is not so prominent? What if it’s not a direct competitor? If it’s not an obviously evil entity like the Nazi’s?

What you have to understand is that the status quo is the enemy. Anything that is not making the world better can become an enemy.

“Some of the most compelling enemies are a mindset, trend, or category truth.” – Lynn Power

The trend to promote beauty products was to showcase thin supermodels using the product. Dove took a stance against it. Showcased everyone but supermodels in their ads. Thin, fat, tall, short, black, white. And outsold every other soap in the market.

The norm is to work 9 to 5. And retire after 60. Tim Ferriss took a stance against this and came up with the 4-hour work week. And became a best selling author.

Schools didn’t pay a lot of attention to the food they served to kids. They did what was easy and convenient and cheap. Jamie Oliver took a stance against unhealthy school meals – before he was famous. His public campaign and activism is what helped him become more popular.

And yes, the prevalent mindset in Sweden was what could a small country like Sweden do? Greta took a stance. And defined the political apathy as her enemy. Chose her time as the period before elections. And her place as the Parliament. Because of which, people rallied behind her.

It was an easy enemy. But not even the opposition political parties picked up the fight. It took a 15 year old to draw the crowd.

Action Summary:

  • Define an enemy. The prevalent status quo that is not improving the world. Start a fight to draw a crowd.