Understanding first step to changing other minds

Is it impossible to change a Donald Trump supporter's mind? Photo: Reuters
Is it impossible to change a Donald Trump supporter's mind? Photo: Reuters
It is human nature to desire affirmation.

I feel much better when I watch Stephen Colbert making fun of Donald Trump, than reading the Facebook postings of a couple of my friends who are pro-Trump.

Public affirmations give the appearance that we are more right than our opponents. There is safety in numbers.

Yet it is the same human nature that motivates Trump to demand loyalty from those who work for him.

It is the same human nature which drives authoritarian leaders to silence their critics.

Pushing the affirmation button is easy. Listening to the opposition is uncomfortable and challenging.

It makes us feel unsafe. It takes courage.

We may find out that we are not right at all.

Yet that is the only way that we can grow. To go beyond us.

I heard on the radio yesterday about a book which was written about James Packer, the son of the Australian mogul Kerry Packer. James Packer admitted publicly his mental health issues in mid-2018, issues which forced him to resign from the Crown Casino board.

It is an amazing thing for a business leader to admit mental health issues. (Can't remember the last time one in New Zealand did that.)

What truly amazed me was that not only did James Packer relate his personal struggles to the author, Damon Kitney, who was a financial journalist, he allowed the author the freedom of writing about those struggles, without him reading any transcript of the book before it was published. He wanted the book to be the author's.

Now that is true courage.

The author admitted that when the book came out, James Packer did find parts of it ''confronting''. It is one thing to wake up feeling terrible. It is another thing to look into the mirror and see how terrible you really look.

James Packer may have his reasons for catharsis. Surely most of us don't have that sort of reason to hold a mirror up to ourselves, or that sort of reason for personal growth.

And after all, we are sure Trump is wrong.

But there may be another reason to listen.

After 26 years as a lawyer, negotiator and advocate, I have learnt that people are not persuaded by reason. Not by emotion either, at least not purely by emotion.

Connection is what persuades.

Empathy is the engine for conversion.

And you cannot connect without understanding. You cannot empathise without crossing the divide.

Pushing the affirmation button only makes us feel good. It is emotional lolly.

All media are full of it - mass or social. Algorithms are written to feed and fuel this emotional sugar addiction.

It achieves little other than put more money into the pockets of the owners of media.

But it is impossible to change a Trump supporter's mind, right?

How would you know if you don't try to understand?

When my clients come to see me, I always ask them: what do you know about your opponent? What motivates them? What is important to them? What is really driving them?

Not infrequently my clients don't know. They have stopped talking to their opponents some time ago. They are convinced they are right, their opponents are wrong and that neither would change their minds.

It is my job to find out, to cross that divide.

The more I know about both sides, the more I am able to change minds.

And yes, more often than not, it means changing minds on both sides.

So, to answer the question we posed, perhaps, the starting place should be: how would you be converted by a Trump supporter?

-Teresa Chan is a lawyer practising in Dunedin.

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