“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series

A Gentler, Better Way to Change Minds

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2022-05-12 18:30:13

“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.

What is the point of arguing with someone who disagrees with you? Presumably, you would like them to change their mind. But that’s easier said than done: Research shows that changing minds, especially changing beliefs that are tied strongly to people’s identity, is extremely difficult. As one scholar put it, this personal attachment to beliefs encourages “competitive personal contests rather than collaborative searches for the truth.”

The way that people tend to argue today, particularly online, makes things worse. Disagreements can feel like a war in which the fighters dig trenches on either side of any issue and launch their beliefs back and forth like grenades. You wouldn’t blame anyone involved for feeling as if they’re under fire, and no one is likely to change their mind when they’re being attacked.

These sorts of fights might give everyone involved some short-term satisfaction—they deserve it because I am right and they are evil!—but odds are that neither camp is having any effect on the other; on the contrary, the attacks make opponents dig in deeper. If you want a chance at changing minds, you need a new strategy: Stop using your values as a weapon, and start offering them as a gift.

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