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How to Change Someone’s Mind

This is the most amazing story you will hear this year. I guarantee it. Last night, while doing research for another article, I came across this video. Just read the title:

Wait… what?

The title alone intrigued me and I’ve decided to take out 20 minutes out of my work schedule to watch the video. After reading through this article, I suggest you do the same.

Here’s the short version of the story:

Daryl Davis is American musician, who happens to be black. As you’ll see, the color of his skin is important to the story. He decided to find out why racist people are racist. In his own words, he wanted to find out: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

Unlike most of us who simply get angry at these racist fucks and attribute their racism to unfounded intolerance or false beliefs, he decided to take another approach — calmly talk to them to understand their point of view.

By “them” he meant the group which literally exists to be racist, the infamous Ku Klux Klan. He set up an interview with a leader of the KKK but told his secretary to leave out the fact that Daryl was black before the interview.

Once Kelly arrived, things expectedly turned awkward, but Daryl still conducted his interview. Over the following years, the two became friends in a way, and Kelly often came to Daryl’s house for dinner. In turn, Kelly showed his hospitality by inviting Daryl to KKK meetings.

Yes, you read that right. The leader of the KKK, a group which was founded on the belief that people with different skin color are inferior and should be segregated or eradicated, became a buddy with the person he was supposed to hate.

In fact, here’s the two of them sipping juice at the backstage of a KKK rally:

Their relationship went on for years until Roger Kelly — the national leader of the KKK — decided to quit. Just by listening and trying to genuinely understand the other side, Daryl Davis made Kelly, as well as many other members since, quit the KKK.

To me, this is the most amazing story I have heard in… well, probably ever.

While the story itself is noteworthy, there’s a deeper message here that all of us can apply. You see, Daryl concluded that hate stems from the fear of the unknown. By getting close to the KKK, learning from them, and educating them, both sides learned more about each other.

In doing this, the fear of the unknown which drives the hate is removed, so by extensions, the hate is removed as well.

Why Proving Someone Wrong Usually Doesn’t Work

Now, while you and I are completely confident in disavowing racism in any shape or form, our own negative attitudes prevent us from making any real change. We complain, protest, and insult racists, but those actions don’t change their minds. In fact, they make their attitudes stronger.

In their mind, the others simply “don’t understand them”. Even when they’re presented with hard evidence that their beliefs are flat-out incorrect, they become more likely to strengthen their beliefs.

This is known as the backfire effect. It happens when someone presents you with new and better information that contradicts something you believe. However, instead of saying: “Hmm I didn’t know that, thanks!”, you’re more likely to react: “Fake news, this is somehow proof that I’m right!”

fake news
When your beliefs are attacked, it’s easy to simply call everything “fake”.

It’s completely illogical. But humans are very prideful and most of us have a hard time admitting that we’re wrong. Self-awareness is a skill, not an innate belief.

If you really want to change someone’s mind, as painful it may be, try to actually understand their opinions. That’s what Daryl did and that’s why he had such great success. By understanding the other person, even if their beliefs seem batshit crazy and illogical, will make it more possible for you to change their mind.

Nobody believes they’re crazy. What seems crazy to you actually makes sense to the other person. If you want them to see your point of view, you first have to understand where they are coming from.

This is called empathy. It’s one of the foundational elements of understanding the world, especially when it comes to social situations. It’s so important that I dedicated an entire chapter of The Social Gladiator, my guide on overcoming insecurity and being more social, to this idea.

Empathy is more than just “feeling the feels” of someone else. It’s being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand that they have lived a different life, which made them adopt a different perception, different values, and a different outlook on the world.

If you ridicule someone or make fun of their opinions, they will likely dig in even further. It’s the classic fight-or-flight response when attacked.

When the opponent is challenged or questioned, it means the victim’s investment and thus his intelligence is questioned. No one can accept that. Not even to themselves.

Guy Ritchie, Revolver

In fact, as some studies show, your brain registers being proven wrong as painful as actual physical pain. So it’s no wonder that direct attacks on someone’s belief system will rarely bear fruit.

Everybody already tried it. It doesn’t work.

So How Can You Actually Change Someone’s Mind?

If you take real effort to see where someone is coming from, to understand how they came to their conclusions, and then present them with better information, it’s more likely you’ll be able to change their minds.

Jordan Peterson, the controversial clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, is great at doing this on a regular basis. In his now-famous interview with Cathy Newman, he continually asks her questions to understand why she believes what she believes. He then tries to explain his own position by appealing to her own perspective.

Try this out: Next time you’re in a disagreement with someone, do your best to hear them out and make it feel like you understand them.

Even though you may be 100% in the right and know it (like when it comes to the fact that racism is bad), try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but try understanding how things look from their perspective and why they believe what they believe.

Of course, this isn’t a magic bullet to brainwashing or de-brainwashing someone. In the end, every person needs to make a conscious decision to want to change. This approach only makes it likely to make someone more open to that possibility.

As Daryl explained it, there is no fighting while two adversaries are talking. It’s when the talking stops that the violence starts. So keep the conversation going.

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