Discourse With Walls: Addressing Unconvincable People

Generally speaking, to listen open-mindedly to an opinion contrary to one's own is an often praised and rarely practiced trait. I speak of true and complete open-mindedness. This would mean that one would go into a discussion having absolutely no bias as to what the correct view was on a given topic. In utilizing this state of mind, it becomes quite possible to see every side of an issue for both its detractions and its merits in an objective clarity. As such a mode of interacting would be quite favorable to human communication in an almost boundless capacity, it’s very common that we are often advised to “keep an open mind.” To respect the opinions of others even when we do not agree. So then, let's suppose we do this open-minded shenanigan, and we find that it really helps us relate and understand others, but something seems to be missing nonetheless. It is quite possible that one can come to understand the opinions and perspectives of others, respect them, and still find them entirely ridiculous—what then? How is it that we might help a person come to view their own beliefs from a more objective and thoughtful position? This will be what I discuss throughout the following article in broad and general terms, which will need modification for application.

Education and understanding are some frequently given responses to persons on one side of an issue trying to argue their case to the other. “If they could just see my reasoning and hear my experiences, they couldn’t see it any other way.” Given that our idea of open-mindedness is true, the previous statement would also be correct if the person on the other side of the issue was willing to truly listen (and that our view was objectively true), but this is often not the case. In deciding where to go, there are many options, but there is no part of being open-minded which obligates one to tolerate intolerable views or those which are objectively false if it adversely affects the lives of others. When the option of dialogue and discussion is available, it is important to hear and Objectively analyze the perspective of the other. Where is it that their views come from? What parts of their perspective are valid? What parts are not? When this information has been obtained, it is then much more possible that one can try to demonstrate that they hear and understand the other, while also making one’s own ability to argue much stronger. Though, at this point, the outright argument may not be the best option.

One way to proceed, which may gain more ground on a particularly stubborn interlocutor, is to calmly challenge some of their underlying assumptions about the topic in a manner which is productive. When it becomes possible to get the other to back off of an assumption or acknowledge it as unfounded, it may then be the time to suggest another mode of thinking as an option. If one can get the other to agree to some assumptions which are more reasonable, it becomes possible to apply these to the issue at large and allow for the comparison of the two views in a more holistic sense. It is important to be careful in doing this, however, as it could lead to a loss of progress if the other isn’t very committed to the truth of the assumptions or startled by the new view. In cases where one has contact with the other over a longer period of time, it may be most practical to move slowly and encourage them to do outside thinking about the subject to help solidify the points you have made. This could be in a situation where one is attempting to refute a political view that a relative holds and is frequently discussing in some setting or convincing someone of the dangers of ignoring climate change.

The suggestion would then be attempting to find the other on their ground and helping them come to a conclusion which is more rational. This type of approach to changing the minds of others for a positive effect can be helpful in a wide variety of situations but will need modification per situation in order to achieve the best effects and is not easy. Communication serves as one of our best routes to the resolution of entrenched and divisive issues. There has been an unquantifiable amount of pain inflicted, suffering perpetuated, and discrimination effected in the name of beliefs which are unfounded in any type of real reasoning. This is not something that can or should stand in a world where people need eachother more than anything else. I must qualify that I speak from the perspective of a white, heterosexual male and that I could not even attempt to fully describe the harm that bad interaction brings, as it is not something I have experienced firsthand in all the ways described. I may only observe the issues from my own perspective. Therefore, your own life, your circumstances, and the nature of the issue being discussed determine the applicability of this information. It can be used in the context of convincing those who are close to us to see things differently or to change the mind of a loud stranger. Attenuation to the issue of positive, productive communication is a matter of global priority, and I sincerely hope that you might use these ideas in making more positive interactions.