If you want someone to believe you, don’t confuse them with the facts. Instead, help them to feel good about themselves and tell them a short but impactful story. That’s what Christopher Graves said in an article he wrote in the Harvard Business Review and which was highlighted in a recent Washington Post Opinion column written by David Ignatius.
The Heath brothers said essentially the same thing in their popular book Switch. This book and the Graves article point to the same conclusion: to change someone’s mind, you have to reach them at an emotional level. You have to touch their hearts. Gandhi said it perhaps best of all: “If you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also”
We have seen this play out time and again in TV commercials, in funding appeals for a cause, in church services, and especially in political campaigns.
But there is a dark side to all of this. The research also shows that if people are told a lie, they will hold on to that lie if it supports what they believe. In fact, trying to debunk the lie only causes the believer to be more stubborn in their position, regardless of all the facts to the contrary. The ongoing debate about climate change is a good example.
This research explains much about what we see on display in the current political environment. Frighteningly it isn’t new. Unscrupulous politicians have been coldly trying to manipulate crowds for ages. Adolf Hitler once said “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” Does that sound familiar?
So what are we called to do in the face of this understanding? I think it is pretty simple. I believe we are called to be the voice of dignity and respect. We are called to be the voice of honesty and courage.
One positive outcome of this presidential election is that it is forcing a debate in the country about what is important to us as a people. In order contribute to that debate, we need to search our hearts and be honest with ourselves. We must have the courage to ask: Is what I believe objectively true, is it value based, and does it support not only me, but does it support the common good of all? Tough questions, but ones we need to answer. If we don’t take the time to know our own heart and mind, we can be assured that there are plenty people who are actively trying to help us decided. And not all of them are looking out for our best interest.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.