How To Change a Mind

Successfully changing someone’s mind from a view they hold dear, or just hold ignorantly, can be a futile or rewarding endeavor depending how you go about it.  My time in philosophy has taught me that a strong argument should do the trick, and yet my mind-changing record is awful and I’ve all but given up arguing outside of my marriage. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time deep in the zeitgeist (on both sides), listening to podcasts, observing arguments on social media, spending more time with my first love (psychology), and I’ve learned some things to take into the ring if I ever decide to go back.

For the purposes of discussion, I will use the easy example (a little late, but I’ve actually just encountered this for the first time IRL) of “all lives matter”; people who, though well intentioned, really miss the point, but whose minds I’ve witness change real time due to the following techniques:

Earn Trust – It might surprise you to learn that being a stranger on the internet has got to be the worst starting point for trying to change a mind. It’s probably negative-trust. So if this is where you’re at maybe just stop before you start and reserve your mind-changing efforts for some friends or family who just don’t get it.

Steelman it – This one is from philosophy 101 that to be honest I always forget to do. Instead of throwing your position at them, begin by throwing their position back at them but even better. They will feel understood right off the bat, maybe even impressed, and therefore safe to proceed. “Ah, so you wonder why are we only focusing on black lives when suffering exists for all people who all matter the same.”

Make a Sandwich – This technique involves placing a thin piece of information meat in between two slices of validation. The validation can be a part of their argument that is sound or compliment. So we might say, “I agree with you that all lives matter. Black lives have just historically been treated unfairly, so the moment is calling to acknowledge it. But I commend you for wanting equality.”

Be a ninja – While you are out front making sandwiches over tea, you want to be working behind the scenes trying to identify the real concern that underlies their attitude. ALMers are likely thinking that implicit in the BLM statement is that “only” black lives matter, or that they matter “more” that their own lives, when it’s really more of a “too”.  

Provide a metaphor – Your ninja ways have identified that the ALMer’s concern is that the BLM movement is a thinly-veiled attempt to eke them out, so you might ask them to imagine they are at family dinner and your dad is serving up plates, but only gives you a half portion “Hey, what’s the deal? I deserve my fair share” you say, to which your dad pats your hand and says, “Of course, dear, everyone deserves their fair share”, and continuing to serve up full plates to everyone else. When dealing with a Christian, you can remind them about the time the shepherd left the 99 to save the one who needed help, and how it didn’t mean the 99 didn’t matter, but that in that moment efforts must be concentrated on the one that needs it.  

Be ready with stats – But don’t lead with them. In this case, if they still haven’t backed down by now, they probably have a problem believing that racial inequality exists in the first place. So be prepared to respond with facts, even though by now the chances of success are pretty low.

Please share your stories about changing someone’s mind!

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