To Be Understood

As popular as this belief is, Logic and facts don’t change people’s opinion.

In his book, ‘An Enquiry Concerning The Principles Of Morals, Scottish philosopher David Hume says this –

“What is honorable, what is fair, what is becoming, what is noble, what is generous, takes possession of the heart, and animates us to embrace and maintain it. What is intelligible, what is evident, what is probable, what is true, procures only the cool assent of the understanding; and gratifying a speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches.”

You can never change someone’s opinion about something rationally. Reason alone cannot do the job. People are convinced that they’re right because we make our judgement first and then find reasons to justify our opinion. This is why it is of the utmost importance to not just listen but understand each other first to convince someone of something.

It is important to understand that most issues, most decisions, most tasks in life are attributed to your morals and morals are close to your heart. You, as a human, are emotional and it matters not how much you deny but your opinions are based mostly on your emotions than logic.

This doesn’t mean the philosopher is not on agreement to use of logic and reason. To him –

“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

In other words, there is no place for logic and reason in a discussion where you don’t find a common ground. And there in lies our problem.

If you watch News and follow daily affairs then you know how divided we all are on every issue.Trump supporter and the liberals, the Nationalists Vs Normal people with an opinion, the beef eaters Vs Cow worshipers. The flat earth Vs science. The Atheists Vs Spiritual.

If you ever watched a debate on the news channel then you know how unproductive they turn out to be every single time. Because you can always clearly see who is right and who is wrong. Because, like it or not, our brain makes a judgement about things in less than a second and then looks for strategic reasons to justify our judgement.

Why do these news debates never manage to conclude their debates properly, where the conclusion satisfies both the arguing parties?

Because they think of it as a fight. Because they don’t know how to argue. Because they do not know how to appeal to the opposition, how to listen to their opposition, how to build a common ground.

“A fight is about winning where as an argument is about winning people over.”

In his book, ‘The Righteous Mind’, Jonathan Haidt explains it well using a great analogy.

The Rider and the Elephant.

Think of two people riding on the back of two different Elephants.

The Rider and the elephant are two parts of our brain. The Rider is the conscious one that does reasoning. But the elephant is our ego, the emotional one.

Most would think that since the rider is conscious it must be in control of our brain but it’s far from the truth. The rider is actually just 1% in control where as the elephant, the emotional part is the actual controller.

Most of us usually invest in the rider by throwing our facts and stats in his face when instead you should feed the elephant. The elephant is emotional.

“Here is why I am right and you’re terribly wrong.’

“What an ass!”

Now see this.

“I hear you. I see where you’re coming from. I would have been of the same opinion if I was in your shoes.”

With this line, the elephant is fed. It is happy that you listened to it. It is happy that you understand why the rider is the way he is. Now the elephant enables the rider’s reasoning abilities which were shut before because of his emotional connect to the opinion he holds.Now the rider thinks to himself

“Oh he actually makes some good points. I don’t completely disagree with him.”

And that’s the start. There you established that you both aren’t that different from each other, that none of you are wrong for your opinion.

The Elephant is a lot stronger than the rider. And if it doesn’t want to change its mind, even a million reasons won’t be enough to do so.

This idea is not new, it’s actually the fundamental of Rhetoric.

Chinese philosopher Confucius writes –

“The province of rhetoric is about cultivating mutual understanding; about fostering an ever-growing web of interpersonal relationships.”

But how do we do that when it’s so hard to connect with people you think are wrong?

Simple.

As laid down by the great ancient philosopher Aristotle in his book ‘The Art of Rhetoric’, there are three tools of Rhetoric which help in talking to the Elephant instead of the Rider.

  • Ethos (argument by character)
  • Pathos (argument by emotion)
  • Logos (argument by logic)

:: Ethos is generally used a lot of times to show credibility.

Like when SRK took the stage in the recent TED talk he gave, he starts with a short introduction that includes a joke on himself and this particular line “I sell dreams, and I peddle love to millions of people”.

That sentence establishes credibility and shouts that everyone should straighten their spines up, clear their head and listen and listen good when he talks.

Ethos also establishes your good will for the said task and makes your intentions for the good clear. Like in most of Modi’s speeches he let’s everyone know that what he’s doing is for the betterment of everyone. Important choice of words and the Goodwill is established.

( “I don’t have any inherited wealth or anything else of much value. What I do have are the blessings of my mother.” )

:: Pathos is what creates the common ground

Listening and understanding forms Pathos. In the short conversation I wrote before the person uses pathos to make the other person’s elephant realise that I care and I know that he does too. And now we have a common ground.

Using comedy is the most intelligent way of doing this in another way but not everyone can do it well. All the good political talk show hosts are good at this.

:: And then there is Logos.

Logos is the last thing to use in an argument. After Ethos and Pathos, the elephant of your opposition is fed and it’s happy now. Logos is the tool you bring out at a stage where the opposotion is already on your side. That is when they listen. Because the elephant is happy that you listened to their arguments and agreed. So it opens their conscious reasoning and rational self to see evidence.

Most people, including myself, jump to Logos. It makes us happy to feel above them. But you didn’t change anything. You never spoke to the other man’s elephant. He did not like you. You did not make him a better person. You actually made him believe more in his opinion than he did before.

If you enable yourself to express and make others understand your point and hear theirs then there is nothing you can’t change.

The best example of this is Mister Rogers convincing the Senator, who is known to be a tough guy, to increase the budget of PBS which was initially 20 but was cut in half to 10 million USD. He actually ended up gaining 2 million more than the original budget of 20 million USD.

In his short speech he caters to the Senators Goodwill and makes him trust Rogers. And then gives credibility that he’s been doing what he does for 15 years. And then ends saying that he knows the Senator also cares for the kids’ mental health and then reads the words of a song he wrote to end the speech on an emotional note.

With all the facts he gave in his speech, it is important to note that he started and ended it with emotion. Which is a great way to end a speech because not facts but emotions make people take action.

All this makes it quite obvious that language plays an important role in presenting our opinion. It drastically effects the way we perceive things.

We frame our arguments like it’s a fight. We think of the other person as an enemy. And it again comes back to one thing, it’s not a fight, they’re not your enemy.

Of course there are pure evil people in this world, but mostly we’re all good and want good things. Agreed, we maybe a little selfish, a little arrogant, a little rude, a little ungrateful but we don’t wish for bad things for other people.

Every time am up against some prick talking shit I assume he must be full of shit immediately before I even listen to them. And that’s a problem when it comes to interpersonal relationship and development of ideas and opinions.

“The only way for the whole truth to emerge is by the reconciling and combining of opposites.” says philosopher John Stuart Mill.

With the all this in mind and all that we are witnessing in the world today it should be easy to solve problems but we recede to protests and rallies before coming out to discourse. And even when discourses are arranged, we are not ready to listen to them and just want them to listen to us. If we don’t listen to them then there is no exchange of though happening. They won’t be convinced to come to your side if you don’t listen to theirs.

Even if your point is the gospel truth of Science and you mould that truth into a sword of ultimate strength and throw it at the rider with a speed faster than that of sound, it won’t make a scratch to him unless you listen to his sentiments and appeal to his Elephant first.

You can’t change a person’s opinion by logic. The most influential people of the world know this. They know that facts don’t change opinions unless they speak to a person’s sentiment and their sense of identity and self interest first. And they know how to get people to take action.

Knowing all this doesn’t make it easy to just change our way of arguing and coming up with solutions. You will always see encounter people that sound so stupid that you just don’t wish to even consider their opinion but that’s when you put your brain to rest so that you don’t judge them. As Jonathan Haidt says

“If you really want to open your mind, open your heart first.”

It is crucial to respect their opinion irrespective of what you think of them so as to form a common ground for finding solutions. Because at the end of the day we all have different experiences in life that shape our opinions. And it is only fair to listen, agree, respect and move to a better understanding of each other.

And as Hume said,

“The Truth only springs from an argument among friends.”

The key word here being ‘Friends‘.

Rogers told kids for 3 decades on his show that their opinion matters. So let’s listen.


Disclaimer: I did not write this to show how smart I am(am not). I just want different opinions to be heard and people to be understood. And if someone studied about understanding each other at a deeper level and made it public, I feel it’s my duty to spread the word. That is it.

Everything I wrote here is mostly/entirely inspired by all the authors mentioned below and their works.

Will Schoder (His youtube channel)
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals – Wikipedia(One of David Hume’s many books.
Rogers’ speech to the senator –

The Righteous Mind – Wikipedia (Jonathan Haidt’s book)
Confucius – Wikipedia
Rhetoric (Aristotle) – Wikipedia
Images are taken from https://www.google.co.in

Fin!

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