Whether anyone can change their mind is something that we’ve been pondering a lot lately. Usually it’s an abstract question.
These days, it’s literally life or death.
Of course it doesn’t pay to approach a conversation with that sort of weight. How unfun. It’s not like anyone is going to be convinced of a single thing with someone looming over them, broadcasting I WILL CONVINCE YOU at them with a steely glare.
We’ve been exploring low-stakes conversations with strangers and near-strangers, just to see how it goes.
The other day, my hubby was in a rideshare. He had just been at work, one of the rare occasions where he has to be there in person. The driver turned out to be... a Fake Moon Landing Conspiracist!
Oh my goodness, I wish I were there. I missed out on the whole thing. I adore conspiracists, especially when they unabashedly hold forth on whatever is their particular brand of lunacy.
Just pause with me for a moment and imagine how funny it is, the juxtaposition of an aerospace engineer riding around in a car with a guy who believes the Moon landing was faked.
It gets better - he also believed that satellites are not real!
“You’re using GPS,” pointed out my hubby.
Most people, especially screenwriters, would imagine my hubby to be either a cold and arrogant scientist or the other kind, the wild-eyed, disheveled absent-minded professor type. On the contrary, if he didn’t have his badge on, not a soul on Earth would guess his profession. (What else would he be doing? I dunno, but I wonder about it a lot).
The magic gift that he has, and something that I could use more of, is to connect with almost anyone. Babies, dogs, neighbors, doctors, customers, interns, whoever. I’ve seen him break up fights and administer first aid. As he described the conversation, I could easily picture how it went, how he drew out this naturally skeptical man and got him to share his convictions.
His main argument for why satellites are not real? They take so long to make!
Well, sometimes, agreed my hubby. I *make* satellites. Sometimes they do take a long time, but not always.
They talked for twenty minutes, and at the end of the trip, the driver said he’ll believe in satellites, “just because of you.”
I love this. Being in the active process of using GPS on his smartphone could not convince this man that satellites exist. But talking to my husband could.
It wasn’t the “facts” of the matter, and it wasn’t something that the man could easily demonstrate to himself. It was the personal testimony of a credible individual. He didn’t believe “facts,” he believed *stories.*
Facts aren’t interesting enough on their own.
Remember a while back, I was talking about a conversation I had with someone who was alarmed by the prospect of the COVID-19 vaccine? I shared that I was excited about getting my shot, because I’ve already had COVID and I was looking forward to being able to travel again.
[When what I wanted to do was barrage her with “facts” and “information” and links and articles, for that is my nature. I’m helping!]
Well, we talk from time to time and she shared how excited she was that she’d already gotten her shot.
What happened in the couple of months that had elapsed to affect her choice? I have no idea. Was our casual conversation, where we chatted about travel, some kind of subconscious pivot point? No way of knowing. We’re not *that* close.
I suspect that when people truly change their minds, it’s almost always subconscious. More so, I think when it happens they usually convince themselves that they’ve felt this way all along. They no longer identify with the version of themselves that was going to go the other way.
There isn’t really a strong cultural narrative of courage or charisma for people who readily change their minds.
It’s one of the reasons I married my husband... Not long after we met, we got into the practice of verbally sparring over hot political and ethical issues. One of the all-time hottest of hot-button topics came up - pretend it was ‘the gold standard’ - and... after a few days, he actually conceded. He told me I had convinced him. I had no idea this was possible, for an adult to budge on this topic. It hasn’t been the last time, either.
It is vanishingly rare to meet someone who will not only change their mind on a major issue, but remember what it was like to hold both opposite opinions at different times.
This is why it’s better not to go about formally trying to convince anti-vaxx people.
...or is it?
I’m never going to let it go. I’m never going to be able to be close friends with someone and agree to not bring it up.
I’m just learning that it’s better with more finesse, with some approach other than the glowering, pompous I WILL CONVINCE YOU.
There has to be a better way, though. Right now it’s very challenging to live in a parallel reality next to people with the potential to, you know, kill you with their breath.
The best thing I can think to say, to the few people I know who are vaccine-hesitant, is that I got it.
I had COVID-19 myself, personally. Then I got the vaccine myself, personally.
Maybe not make any pronouncements or share any opinions. Just describe my personal experience.
Look at me. Just like over a hundred million people, I got the shot and it was totally fine. Nothing happened. It took half an hour of my time, and then it was done, and for the first time in a year, I finally feel like I can relax.
Probably that’s what it takes, if we’re setting out to convince people of things. Learning to relax.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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