I've read another chapter in How Minds Change, by David McRaney.
This one is called "Deep Canvassing," as opposed to the shallow sort of canvassing that I've done occasionally where you knock on the door of a person you want to encourage to vote in a certain way, have a brief chat with them, and hand them a brochure about your favored candidate.
Deep Canvassing is the brainchild of a California group, the Leadership LAB (stands for Learn Act Build), which is the political action arm of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the largest LGBTQ organization on earth.
The LAB wanted to change opinions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other people with a queer identity. Through a lot of experience knocking on doors in southern California and having fairly lengthy conversations with people, they evolved an approach to changing minds that research has shown to be effective even with just a single conversation.
(See here and here for stories in the Atlantic and New York Times about that research.)
Below are excerpts from the Deep Canvassing chapter that provide a pretty good overview of what was found to work, and not to work, in changing minds. Basically, providing facts or arguing with someone rarely is productive. Encouraging the person to think about their own thinking -- that's the way to change a mind.
Naturally my own mind wondered about how that applies to this Church of the Churchless blog. After all, since 2004 I've been encouraging people to be spiritually independent rather than a follower of an organized religion, mystical path, or form of spirituality.
Since regular commenters on this blog run the gamut from avid religious believer to fervent atheist, over the years I've observed that by and large, trying to convince someone to alter their frame of mind regarding religion/God/spirituality may be interesting and entertaining, but almost always fruitless.
My own conversion from religious believer to skeptic was along the line of what the LAB folks found, albeit slower. The change in my outlook didn't come from any outside pressure. It evolved organically over quite a few years as, bit by bit, I came to see things differently as regards the guru-led organization I was a member of for 35 years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
If someone had come to my door during the time I was a RSSB devotee and told me that I'd be better off leaving the group, I would have shut the door in their face. Instead, Laurel, the woman I married in 1990 after getting divorced from my first wife, would simply ask questions about RSSB, some of which I had difficulty answering.
I didn't have a dramatic change of heart about RSSB in the same way the LAB has found that attitudes to LGBTQ people can sometimes alter significantly after a single meaningful conversation. Probably this is because religious beliefs tend to be more complex and more central to a person's identity than how they feel about gays.
But my many talks with Laurel about our spiritual beliefs (at the time she followed a New Age channeler, which caused me to question her about him) seemed to help sow some seeds within my mind that eventually sprouted into me changing my mind about RSSB.
Here's the chapter excerpts. The "I," of course, is the author, David McRaney.
I couldn't shake the idea that I, too, was probably one conversation away from changing my mind about something, maybe a lot of things. But I also recalled how many conversations I'd had that only made my convictions stronger.
I thought about the truthers and all the conversations they had in New York. I wondered what made these interactions different.
In the training after the videos, Laura handed things over to Steve, and I got my first clue. He opened by telling the crowd that facts don't work. A serene man with a gentle and patient spirit, Steve put away his persistent smile and raised his voice to address the audience on this point.
"There is no superior argument, no piece of information that we can offer, that is going to change their mind," he said, taking a long pause before continuing.
"The only way they are going to change their mind is by changing their own mind -- by talking themselves through their own thinking, by processing things they've never thought about before, things from their own life that are going to help them see things differently."
He stood by a paper easel on which Laura had drawn a cartoon layer cake. Steve pointed to the smallest portion at the top with a candle sticking out. It was labeled "rapport," the next smallest layer was "our story," and the huge base was "their story."
He said to keep that image in mind while standing in front of someone, to remember to spend as little time as possible talking about yourself, just enough to show that you are friendly, that you aren't selling anything.
Show you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. That, he said, keeps them from assuming a defensive position. You should share your story, he said, pointing to the portion of the cake that sat on top of the biggest layer, but it's their story that should take up most of the conversation.
You want them to think about their own thinking.
The team tossed out lots of metaphors like these. For instance, Steve later said to think of questions as keys on a giant ring. If you keep asking and listening, he told the crowd, one of those keys was bound to unlock the door to a personal experience related to the topic.
Once that real, lived memory was out in the open, you could (if done correctly) steer the conversation away from the world of conclusions with their facts googled for support, away from ideological abstractions and into the world of concrete details from that individual's personal experiences.
It was there, and only there, he said, that a single conversation could change someone's mind.
...Steve would tell me later that they had learned over many conversations that reasons, justifications, and explanations for maintaining one's existing opinion can be endless, spawning like heads of a hydra. If you cut away one, two more would appear to take its place.
Deep canvassers want to avoid that unwinnable fight. To do that they allow a person's justifications to remain unchallenged. They nod and listen.
The idea is to move forward, make the person feel heard and respected, avoid arguing over a person's conclusions, and instead work to discover the motivations behind them. To that end, the next step is to evoke a person's emotional response to the issue.
...I nodded, still unsure why facts and logic were such a bad idea.
Steve explained that after thousands of recorded conversations they had found that battling over differing interpretations of the evidence kept the people they met from exploring why they felt so strongly one way or the other.
People could remain in the logic space doing battle with the canvasser's facts for hours and never leave, safe and unable to tap into why those facts evoked such powerful feelings. The LAB tried arguing the facts for years, and it had long proved a waste of time.
"Doing this work has taught me that people make their decisions about issues like this, in their life and when they're voting, at a really emotional, visceral level," said Steve.
"What I envision when I'm standing in front of a voter is that people have this intellectual, logical reasoning process. That's one part of how they process the world and make decisions. But they have this almost entirely separate emotional reasoning process which is based on feelings and things they've experienced."
Steve said they used to hand-hold people and try to walk them through why certain facts should be compelling, why they should obviously change their minds, but his hunch now is that it will never work.
A canvasser's reasoning can't be copied and pasted into another person. The facts that matter to them probably won't matter to the other person at all.