Warning – wildlife interpretation can be even harder than I said last time

In two previous posts (here and here) I have discussed some of the differences between wildlife and historical interpretation.

But there is an elephant in the room …

Banksy’s “Barely Legal’ – a suitably controversial image.

… I believe many wildlife interpreters have much more emotionally invested in their work than historical interpreters. In short, they want what they do to save the world. I know, because this can happen to me too. And it gets in the way of doing my best work.

Don’t get me wrong. Historians too are, of course, passionate about what they communicate. But I think wildlife interpreters often work under the shadow of an environmental Armageddon that historians don’t.  Historians and archaeologists please tell me if I am wrong

To be the best wildlife interpreter I can be, I have to put my environmental anxiety, my campaigning, to one side. That is not too difficult. The tricky thing is persuading my environmental organisation clients that they should do the same.

Of course, caring is vital to good communication (see here).  A passion for your subject is brilliant (see here and here) but it can dazzle not only your visitors but also you.  A passion for, and fascinated understanding of, the people you are talking to is equally, if not more, important.  Too much enviro-zeal gets in the way of your visitor focus, and takes your eye off the people your are talking to. That can be fatal.

The single most important, and hardest, thing that interpreters have to get their heads round is that ‘not everyone is like me’. So you can’t judge your interpretation on what you like, or your content on what you want to hear (or say).

We environmentalists do know that really, not everyone is like us. Often we really really wish they were. They are not.

Go back to Branding Biodiversity (that report by the lovely Futerrans that I have mentioned before).  Not only does it nail the importance of ‘Love not Loss’ messages, it also talks pointedly about ‘biocentrics’ and everyone else.

‘Biocentrics’ are people who believe, usually fervently and passionately, that nature has intrinsic worth, equal to or maybe even greater than that of humans. (As Futerra point out, they may be right but that’s not what we are discussing.) Biocentrics are rare in the population at large, they are pretty common among environmental communicators, including, I bet, interpreters.  It’s a strength, the love that drives us to do what we do and keep on doing it (often for poor, or no) pay – and a weakness, that can undermine the effectiveness of what we do.

NOTE: Our new training course on “What makes nature and wildlife interpretation special?” is now ready for in-house customers (at an introductory rate until the end of 2012).  We are looking for suitable venues for running an open course for up to 30 people in 2013 – ideas welcome. If you would be interested in hosting or attending such a course,  contact us at info@telltale.eu.  For more on TellTale Training go here

About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
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