Changing your mind

So last weekend I went to my grandma’s house for a family event. My grandma is eighty three years old and still kicking. I love her very much and admire her for many reasons. However some of her comments about the protests in Baltimore took me by surprised and got me thinking about how to talk to someone with a completely different view point than myself and more specifically how to change their mind.

While we were watching the news at the breakfast table a story on the protests in Baltimore came on and the first thing she says is, “Look at what these thugs are doing”. At first I was shocked into silence because my grandma is usually pretty accepting and if she doesn’t share her opinion on something like this, she’s usually pretty mild and quiet so I was struck by this outcry. I then asked her why she called them thugs and she said that’s because that’s what they are. She then changed subjects and I was still so shocked I didn’t know what to say.

Upon further reflection a few things about this interaction stuck with me and got me thinking. First of all was the way the media is reporting on the “riots”. Apparently PEACEFUL protests have been going on since the incident more than almost two weeks ago but the news really picked up on the story when they turned violent. There was looting and property damage and immediately the media sprang to action. Suddenly these “thugs” were “rioting” “unnecessarily” and didn’t deserve any respect or actions based on their entirely valid requests. So I guess I gave my grandma a little forgiveness because if you only watch one news station–probably conservative–and don’t do any research on your own, you have no way of knowing exactly what’s going on.

The second thing that struck me came bout when I was listening to a This American Life episode–sorry not sorry I love podcasts. This episode was called The Incredible Rarity of Changing One’s Mind and it’s about getting people to change their minds and how incredibly wrong that is. It starts with an interview with an advocacy agency in California working to legalize gay marriage. Its workers would go out into the street and purposefully try to talk to people who voted against legalizing same sex marriage and understand why so as to better be able to counter their arguments. They realized that the more personal stories and appealing to logic worked. (To be honest I haven’t finished the whole episode so there might be further comments). Anyway, I would be interested to see how this would function in an example like what occurred between me and my grandmother. Would it function across different generations? Or with regards to race? What about a white person talking to another person about the black lives matter movement?

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6 thoughts on “Changing your mind

  1. Leah, the podcast about the advocacy agency in California working to legalize gay marriage seems very interesting and I may have to listen to it myself. But from what you have stated and the questions that you have raised I think a few things may be in play if the same thing was to happen for race. Across generations I believe that you would be able to see trends where the elderly would not be able to change as many minds of them as the middle aged and youth today. It is as if when you turn a particular age you do not care about anything anyone else has to say whether it be personal or logical you just shut it off and think for yourself. Yes, this could be the case for any person of any age but I think that it is especially true for the elderly. For the middle aged and youth there is potential for these tactics of logic and personal stories not only opening up their eyes and minds to other possibilities but also totally reversing their thought process about topics regarding race. However, the one potential problem that I see occurring when interviewing people about such issues regarding race is that they would not be open to discussing these issues period. People will discuss gay marriage, abortion, the legalization of marijuana, but when the time comes to talking to someone, especially someone who is someone random interviewing you on the street, they will shut down immediately and walk away to avoid the conversation. As we have learned throughout this class people nationwide are misinformed about racial issues and problems with race in the legal system. If you try and discuss these issues with people they will think that what you are saying is just a bunch of false statements and keep on believing what they want to believe. Finally, if you are discussing a topic such as the black lives matter with a white person I have to assume that if they do end up wanting to discuss such an issue with you, you will not always get the truth out of them and they will create a completely false statement just to say what is wanted to be heard. No person wants to be known as the racist or the person who thinks that black lives do not matter, no matter what their true feelings are. It is a great idea to try and create such a situation as what the podcast did in California, but I just am not sure if you will get the same result.

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    1. I agree with Nick about what he says that not everyone would be honest when interviewed about race, because of the accountability factor—nobody will admit to being a racist, especially not on a recorded interview.
      But Leah when approaching someone who may have a totally different view than yourself on something, I think the important thing is to recognize that people all experience different things in life. In doing so, to an extent at least, their thinking has been fostered by their experiences and changing one’s mind regarding an issue may not be a realistic expectation, because that is ike asking the person to forget a segment of their experiences—that shaped their thinking. I guess what I am trying to say is not to have an agenda, in that you are actively seek to change what a person (such as your grandmother thinks) but to respect that at times there may be reasons why they think the way they do (this is not me condoning racist thoughts or anything like that). You can give them the means to understand the multiple circumstances, facts and perspectives on the issue at hand so they may themselves change their outlook if they so choose, but changing one’s mind is more often than not in the hands of the individual—they must want to change or come to realization themselves that they need to change or that their perspective is ignorant, wrong etc.

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  2. I think Manoj brings up a really important point that I want to think about a little more, and which is related to the point Nick raised. Aiming to change someone’s mind rarely works (see EVERY PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE EVER). Habermas says that when we enter a conversation with such an attitude, it’s not true communication. Instead, we have to be willing to be persuaded ourselves. On some level, of course, when it comes to racial justice and injustice, I have a hard time agreeing with Habermas’s point: that I need to be willing to be persuaded that racial injustice is OK in order to engage in moral communication. But I do think it might help to ask questions rather than to offer answers. That is, probe why your grandmother equates black protestors with thugs. Ask what she thought of the civil rights movement and the protests/riots that occurred in most major US cities. Ask whether her family had any black friends and why not. Ask whether she grew up in a neighborhood that was segregated or if she remembers seeing legally segregated public spaces. Then be willing to listen to her answers, and ask her questions about she thinks the long term outcome of those things might be.

    Then ask her questions about what kinds of interactions she’s had with people of color, or if she’s ever been really poor, or if she or her husband ever feared that the police would kill their children without accountability. In short, I think the best strategy might be to move away from thinking about people as racists to trying to ask questions that guide them to think about structures and how various points of view about race are embedded in them. That involves difficult conversations with people we would prefer not to have difficult conversations with. But if we can’t talk about the things that matter with those we love, what are we doing?!

    I recall a conversation I had with my own grandmother. I was in Oklahoma City, at the Murrah Building Memorial, on the day that Timothy McVeigh was going to be executed. Here are the quotes on the entrance: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.” I asked my grandmother, who was fully convinced that McVeigh deserved execution, how his actions to blow up a building and kill people was different than the violence of the death penalty. Don’t get me wrong: if anyone deserved the death penalty, it’s that guy – his actions were abhorrent. But how is state killing different than murder? My grandmother paused, thought for a minute, and said “I’d never thought about that.” We didn’t continue the conversation, in part because I left the next day, but I remember her pause and reflection. We may never convince people, but we can always ask them to think – harder and deeper and more honestly. So questions: always ask questions. And be willing to sit with the answers and still respect the person you are questioning as a person.

    Anyway. I’m avoiding grading. But thanks to you all for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Leah, Nick, Manoj and Dr. Pool, you all bring up brilliant points. I firstly want to sympathize with Leah, Although this isn’t the most comforting thought but I too have figures like “grandma” in my family.

    As a graduating senior who is unemployed and will most probably spend the next few weeks at home, I often wonder how much of stranger my education has made me to them. Furthermore, I am anxious about how to address comments and ideas I disagree with. I find the conversation Manoj and Dr. Pool are having about having an agenda fascinating. I find myself questioning, how, if I want to become the ultimately tolerant person we all aim to be, that I find some of my family’s views so infuriating. However, I’ve found that I do often try to change their minds which is often is a source of conflict. When my agenda of attempted mind-changing is exposed, the addressed family member will then say “but that’s my opinion.” How can I expect them to accept me if I don’t accept them?

    For my political science senior seminar, my final project tried to look at how political disagreement affected (or didn’t affect) tolerance. What we found was that political disagreement in workplace or less intimate environments encouraged conflict avoidance and didn’t affect tolerance. However, disagreement (in views or verbally) between people with a social relation, such as a family or friend, made for more tolerant individuals. This may actually give us hope that our efforts, whether it is through conversations, podcast exchanges, emails or screaming matches, are not in vain.

    My personal experience is that, as a feminist and the oldest sibling to two sisters and a brother, gender roles are something that generations disagree about but ultimately accept. My grandmother disagrees with a lot of my mother’s views and my mother and I reciprocate this pattern.

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  4. Jessica I know where you are coming from, because like you I found some of my family’s views to be extremely infuriating as well. Me and my dad butt heads on just about everything. What I realized was that throughout our heated arguments, was that I would always try to show my dad how wrong he was and that his views could not possibly be correct. This obviously makes for interesting debate, because he employs the exact same strategy and this always culminates in a drawn out argument between us. Anyway, what I realized was that when either my dad or I would offer proof that directly contradicted the credence of our repsective beliefs, this had the opposite effect that you would expect. As we do this, we are naturally inclined to think that the other person will drop their views once they realize that they are wrong, but in fact this only served to do the exact opposite. In this regard, it only made me and my dad (whenever we did this to one another) believe in our beliefs all the more only adding to our fervor and zeal.

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