Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to Change Someone's Mind

Here's what gets me.

Throughout our lives, we encounter many situations in which we try to change someone's opinion to match our own.

As children, we tried to persuade our playmates to agree with us as to what to play, where to go, what to do.

Occasionally, we tried to persuade our parents to let us stay up later, buy us a particular toy, let us watch television.

As teenagers, we might have had younger siblings to convince to let us have our way, best friends to agree on which movie to see and sweethearts to persuade that we were being honest and true to them.

As adults, we sometimes have a fellow juror or a spouse we try to persuade to agree with us, a co-worker we want to do things the way we want and our own children to persuade that what we want is best for them.

But have you ever examined the art and process of changing someone's mind? Have you ever thought about your successes and failures and drawn any conclusions about what works and what doesn't? Have you ever taken the time before an argument to determine what you want to achieve, what the best persuasive evidence is to present and what characteristics your adversary has that might help your cause?

Childhood arguments are simple. We either reach a mutual agreement about what we want to do or one of us walks away in hurt or anger. With our parents, if we don't have a convincing argument to prove our point, the larger, more powerful person wins.

Teenage disagreements are more complicated. We can usually win an argument with a younger sibling based on our broader knowledge and experience, but we have to be aware that an arbitrary, selfish decision might be used against us later in life. With best friends and sweethearts, we are on equal ground, and logic has to come into play along with our emotions.

Adult arguments are the most complicated of all, and yet society wants us to conduct them in the most logical, dispassionate manner possible, as adults, without violence.

So, what is the best way to change someone's mind, so that not only do you achieve the result you want, but all parties are also in nonresentful agreement afterwards?

The best approach is to use logic. For example: "If all A is B, and C is A, then C is also B."

Who can argue against that? If you don't agree that C is B, then you have to disprove either "all A is B" or "C is A."

"All politicians are crooks. Richard Nixon was a politician. Therefore, Nixon was a crook."

The problem with logic is that the opponents have to agree that the premises are true. ("Two neighbors were arguing over the backyard fence, but they couldn't reach an agreement, because they were arguing from different premises.")

Humor can be useful in arguments, because it can break the tension, put things in a different perspective and sometimes allow you to save face and agree to change your opinion in an argument that isn't really important.

However, unless the parties agree to the truth of the premises, no amount of logic is going to change anyone's mind.

Pro-life people believe "All abortion is killing. Killing is wrong. Therefore, all abortion is wrong."

Pro-choice people disagree with either "all abortion is killing" or "(all) killing is wrong," and therefore they will never agree with the conclusion "all abortion is wrong," unless they can agree to live with something they believe is wrong.

The pro-choice argument is "Women can do what they want with their bodies. Abortion is an act of doing what you want with your body. Therefore, women can have abortions."

The pro-life people disagree with "women can do what they want with their bodies." And until the two sides get in the same backyard and argue from the same premises, no amount of logic is going to change anyone's mind.

When logic fails, threats can sometimes work, followed by force or else sometimes just force without the threat.

"If you don't give me that ball, I'm going to punch you in the nose."

"If you don't go to bed right now, I'm going to give you a spanking."

Threats and force, however, don't change minds; they just achieve results in a childish fashion and always cause resentment.

Logic works better, as long as we're all playing in the same backyard.

I rest my case.

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