Language that Connects

“Thanks for keeping our park clean.”

This affirmation is posted on new signs at the entrances and exits to a local park. The park has suffered in recent years from overuse, including excess drinking and trash left after weekend parties. The parks department has increased enforcement of existing rules and also invested in new signage to communicate with park users.

As I took my regular walk around the park, I pondered the plea on the sign and wondered if changing the word “our” to “your” would make a more compelling connection with the park visitors. Subtle difference, but perhaps enough to change the emotional connection based on language. “Our park” can refer to the space that belongs to all of us, every visitor to the park. Or “our park” can sound like the park belonging to the city officials, distancing language, especially on a sign that includes a very long list of rules. What if the sign said, “Thanks for keeping your park clean”?

Perhaps an even more compelling sign would be to appeal to the positive emotions of the park users: “We all love this park. Let’s show the love and keep it clean!”

Most reasonable people don’t throw trash in their own yards. So if the parks department can convince the park visitors that this park belongs to them, then perhaps park visitors will be more invested in the upkeep of the park. It would be nice if people didn’t leave trash in public spaces, but the sense of ownership seems to increase the likelihood of good behavior. I don’t throw trash in my own yard because I don’t like looking at trash. The task for the parks department is to convince people that the park is their own personal yard, and they have a vested interest in keeping it clean.

Emphasizing “you” in communication makes the language more connective. Because even though people should care about the public good, they tend to be focused on their own personal interests above the good of the community.

What kind of sign do you think would be most connective?


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