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Communication and the process of change

This is a question that has been coming up a lot lately, in many different guises: how can you communicate with people so that they accept your perspective and change their views? To this, I suspect it might be wise to add: should we?

It seems that the main approaches being taken at the moment are essentially to shame, ridicule, attack, or exert social pressure on people to coerce them into changing their minds. This seems to suggest that people holding different views are somehow stupid, uneducated, malevolent, and generally not worth talking to reasonably. Not to say that those who hold extreme or intolerant views shouldn’t be challenged over them, but it seems the question of “how” presents itself again.

Essentially, it seems to me that recent methods of communicating are pretty combative and don’t leave others much freedom to change their own minds without accepting the various labels and judgements implied above. Does it place people in a position to stand by their new decision, to understand it and explain it to others, or to adopt consistent values if the reason they chose that way was because ‘someone told them to’? Our perspectives are unique to each of us, so unless we listen enough to understand one another’s views how can we expect to reach a common view of things? And if you attack someone’s views without genuinely listening to why they think how they do, surely it’s only natural to defend oneself and possibly become more entrenched in those opinions? I suspect that if someone holds a certain view it is because their life experiences, their education, their social realities make that conclusion seem right. So maybe divergent views sit more within the bigger social realities of education and society as a whole.

Of course it’s not straightforward, and many of the views of more liberal parts of society seem based in very well-meaning ideals of equality, progress, compassion etc. But I wonder if we’re not trying to rush ahead with progress without listening to the living realities and concerns of all corners of society and taking the time to foster the understanding needed for opinions to change of a person’s own volition.

I see that the issues at stake at the moment are hugely significant for society, but I just wonder at the wisdom of communicating this way when patience, mutual understanding and education may serve better to empower others to change their own minds if they can see wisdom in what is offered.

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