Writing People Off or Finding Solidarity Across Difference?

In the prologue to his book, The Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas, writes about the war on persuasion. He says that we have been conditioned to write “other people off – assuming they (will) never change their minds or ways, dismissing them as hopelessly mired in identities they (can’t) escape, viewing those who (think) differently as needing to be resisted rather than won over, refusing to engage in the work of persuasion.” This sentiment is fueled by “the feeling that vital political pursuits – of solidarity across difference, of multi-racial coalitions, of united fronts against authoritarianism – and other endeavors to create the conditions for meaningful change (are) doomed.” This is a pretty depressing sentiment, although his book is all about people engaged in the work of persuading others to explore or adopt an expanded worldview (our language) for exactly this purpose.

In a world that is becoming increasingly fragmented and where we can feel more isolated in the views we do hold, it can be easy to believe we should just give up. What’s the point? Especially if we do not want to engage in conflict with others, particularly online where it is too easy to quickly digress into attacks on individuals rather than have a healthy discussion of ideas and different points of view.

Yet as humans we crave both being understood and connection. It is important to our self-esteem. So, ironically, is being right. Neuroscience research shows that the brain rewards us for being “right” by sending out little jolts of pleasure molecules, like dopamine or serotonin, when how we already think is supported by information or feedback we come across – whether or not that information is factually correct. The brain also penalizes us when our worldviews are challenged by sending out jolts of pain molecules, like cortisol. This makes us inclined to hold onto our views more strongly.

However, we can train the brain, our brain, out of those immediate spontaneous reactions by intentionally building new neural networks or pathways, constructed with simple practices like curiosity, inquiry, compassion, empathy and humility. When we do not have an automatic defensive response when new information, ideas or views are presented, we can assimilate and absorb new information. Our worldviews can be influenced by information that expands how we see and experience situations or topics of conversation, discussion or debate. Brains and worldviews are actually changing all the time, but usually we are not aware of it. If this happens anyway, understanding how it works offers keys to influencing or persuading, to finding solidarity in difference. For many of us, this is a worthwhile pursuit.

Worldview Intelligence offers language, a structure and skills to engage in candid conversations. We are frequently told this is so needed in the world right now and that Worldview Intelligence inspires hope and confidence to invite conversations about differing perspectives. Not necessarily to change someone’s mind, but to be curious about why they think the way they do, to find connecting points across fragmentation, to not view people who think differently as write-offs but for everyone involved to have a broader, richer experience. We may not be able to build bridges between everyone and all views, but isn’t it worth discovering where we can? Relationships matter. They are essential to our survival. This is worth investing in.

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