Now showing items tagged politics

At some point in history, the ideas and assumptions we take for granted were controversial. Now, their opposing idea would be the one considered extreme, and those who hold it are likely to be rejected or simply remain silent. Majority opinion feels stable, but it is constantly in flux.

Back in the 1930s, French historian and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, suggested that “As long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, everyone is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety.” Known as the Tocqueville effect, this dynamic in human behaviour is alive and well today.[1]

In a world of increasing polarisation, empathy stands out as a virtue that restores humanity to conversations and is persuasively powerful enough to change even the firmest of opinions. But, few things evoke empathy as poignantly as first-hand experience.

I vividly remember a simulated experience that forever changed my perspective on the plight of refugees. A few years ago, my family and I spent a few weeks volunteering at an aid agency in Hong Kong called Crossroads. While Crossroads’ core work is the shipment of essential aid and materials to impoverished people around the globe, they also have a commitment to education and community engagement.

What does it take to change a mind? This question has garnered much attention in recent years. Shifting the beliefs and behaviour of an individual and group has only grown as a priority in the minds of many, as politics becomes more polarised and opinions more opposed.

Some persuasion practitioners have sought to create formulas or frameworks for doing so. Take Blair Warren’s one-sentence persuasion approach which promises to capture the secret of meaningful influence in a single 27-word sentence:

“It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go around.”[1]

This statement of Columbia University economics professor Joseph Stiglitz finds new relevance in today’s circumstances. With the past year presenting unprecedented threats and challenges to society, recent measures have seen public trust in major institutions plummet to all-time lows.