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Tackling social taboos

Forging communities who tackle social taboos - lessons for changing behaviour with money

Photo of Jes Simson
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Candidly talking about money is a big social taboo.  Sure we joke that we we're a bit light on, or that our mortgage is killing us - but candid conversations are pretty rare.  This makes building resilient community support within the financial empowerment space really difficult.  

Here are a few lessons we could learn from other 'taboo' social topics - and the incredible communities that have formed to combat them.   

Gambling - Responsible Gambling Victoria uses a social approach to rehab in "Fight for the real you"

If there's one social taboo that wreaks of guilt and shame, it's gambling.   Responsible Gambling Victoria worked with psychologists and an advertising agency to create  a social rehabilitation program - the '100 day challenge'.  Gamblers were able to set goals, recruit friends and family as supporters and record their experiences via a private online diary.  The campaign was incredibly effective.   

Health - Vanquishing the bad guy (your ill health)-  SuperBetter

Talking about your health issue can be really difficult, especially if your health issue is stigmatised by your community (like sexually transmitted deceases and mental illnesses).  SuperBetter frames your health issue as a epic battle where you, the hero, vanquish your enemy, your illness / injury.  You set daily quests and get points for doing the small things that make you feel a bit better ('power ups').  The game also encourages you to ally with friends and family who will help you slay your foe.  SuperBetter employs a lot of recognisable elements from video games that makes it fun, engaging and social.  By encouraging you to engage allies, it creates a safe place to talk about some pretty heavy topics and empowers friends and family to help you overcome your challenge.  For more information, see Jane McGonigal's (the designer) Ted talk / podcast


Weight is another one of those things that's really, really difficult to meaningfully talk about within most social contexts.  Apps like My Fitness Pal are forging incredibly strong communities for people who are loosing weight.  Give it 100 is a place where people can share what they want to get better at and then share a video of daily progress.  It give users a very public forum to showcase progress that they have made towards a goal (like weight loss or learning to dance) over a 100 day period.  

So, what lessons can we draw from these communities to help lead to financial empowerment?

  • Make it social.  'Fight for the Real You' and 'Superbetter' both encourage participants to use their friends and family as support networks and to help them recognise possible solutions.  

  • Make it public.  A public community acts as a bit of a commitment device, encouraging people to stick to their publicly stated goals. 

  • Acknowledge the problem head on. These communities all acknowledge that there's a serious issue and tackle it head on.  

  • Make it fun and engaging. Superbetter turns what could be a pretty harrowing, isolating experience into something that is social and (potentially) enjoyable through role play.  

  • Celebrate small wins.  Superbetter, 'Fight for the Real You' and 'Give it 100' are all about big, long term behavioural change.  However, they break their challenges up into small, bite sized goals that make you feel like you are progressing.  

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Photo of Shane Zhao

Fascinating post Jes! These examples of social taboos are great analogous ways of examining how people behave around the topic of money. As with most taboos - the more we censor it, the more it grows into a bigger problem. We're also loving the lessons that you have extracted from these analogies. In particular, "make it public" and "acknowledge the problem" might be great provocations for the community to explore in addressing this topic of money as a taboo.

Also, if you haven't already seen this post, here's a another likeminded contribution on this thread: