We want to change people’s minds, but we aren’t teaching our activists how to do that. We have opportunities that are being lost time and time again.
First published in January 2019. | Updated in October 2019.
We’re more concerned with demonstrating how wrong someone else is than we are with understanding why they feel and think the way they do. We’re dismissing reasons for leaving as invalid without looking for why the other person thinks that it was an essential piece of information to use to make their decision.
On Saturday, I stood with Devizes4EU at a stall in Devizes, Wiltshire and I was looking for opportunities. The salesman inside me doesn’t get that much exercise these days, but the coach who used to teach people to sell is still very active. I’m sure I missed many good conversations, but I also observed many lazy and, frankly, abrasive ones.
If the first thing you say makes someone feel like you won’t listen to them, there’s no point in trying to change their mind. Why should they? If you don’t listen to them, how can you expect them to listen to you? Because you think you are right? From their point of view, they are right. Because it would be polite of them to listen? The first thing you said was to tell them that they are wrong.
This is a delicate situation. Many people have made up their minds and it will take far too much effort to help them see the situation in a different light for it to be worth taking that time. As time advances, all camps — be they Leave with Deal, Leave without a Deal, People’s Vote, or Revoke Article 50 — are entrenching. Trenches are a concept that is based on a lack of movement. We need people to stay mobile in their thinking, or there will be no way to heal this divide that is still growing.
People are becoming embedded for one side or another. Our biggest opportunities come from those who are unsure. Those people that are conflicted. The people who seem like they are contradicting themselves when you let them talk about what they think should happen and why they think that. We have created a binary categorisation from a complex, multiple-outcome situation. Binary politics relies entirely on swing voters and it is essential that we understand why they are conflicted if we want to bring them around to our point of view.
I voted to leave — and I’m a Remainer now — but most of the people who I was with in Devizes would have struggled to change my mind with the way they approached conversations with people, and even with myself when asking why I voted the way I did. Assumptions were made about why I made the decision. There was little to no investigation of why I voted the way I did.
As a Leave voter, I can empathise with people who voted the same way as me. I can see both sides of the argument. Ultimately, both sides are campaigning on two things, fear and what they do not want. Remainers don’t want to leave the EU but struggle to articulate why objectively. Leavers don’t want to stay in the EU but struggle to articulate how they want to do that or even what it is they do not like about the EU.
There is essentially no apparent objectivity on display in all the forums where I see this debate. Rhetoric has replaced conversation and rhetoric is exactly the right word when neither side seems remotely interested in what the other has to say about why they have decided this is the most favourable path.
Remain is failing the country just as much as Leave is. In some ways, this process is doing a great service to the country. Without this process we’ve attempted to navigate in the last two years, my mind would still be set on Leave because I believe my reasons for leaving remain valid. It has also highlighted the issues with the way Parliament operates versus our executive government. There is a constitutional crisis happening with all kinds of precedent being both created and ignored.
On the one hand, the government appears outraged that the Speaker is using the powers that he has over how Parliament and the government communicate with one another to conduct the country’s business because it is unprecedented, but on the other hand, we have the government ignoring centuries of precedent with regards to losing votes on essential business motions by large margins and yet remaining in power.
Our constitution is unwritten. It is based on honour and what has happened before. It is based on a different time. We live in a time of terms and conditions. Of either agreeing to what someone says has to happen without reading the rules that determine that or reading the rules so thoroughly that you can categorically state “according to this, I don’t have to.” The government remains where it is because nowhere is it written that they have to dissolve Parliament after losing a vote by over a third of the possible votes. In the past, every government has dissolved and either a new one that could command a majority was forged with incumbent MPs or the issue was returned to the people in a general election.
The dangers of our current situation only increase if we continue to push people to double down on their views. Every time we dismiss the reason someone did something, that reinforces the idea that we will never understand and so the conversation becomes pointless for that person. Any conversation between two people is pointless for both as soon as it is pointless for one.
Democracy ceases to function when people cease to change their minds.
It’s not just that Remain is failing to convince people. On average, I believe it to be making it less likely that people who voted Leave will change their minds. Most people will not research things in detail. Most people will read the surface messages, make a decision, and then get on with thinking about how to achieve their goals, whether that is feeding their kids, getting a promotion at work, or anything else that is important to that person.
This month, I’ve repeatedly said that if we all change one person’s mind, there will be twice as many of us. However, I’m realising now — probably too late — that if we all entrench one person, every issue that will come in the future will be much harder to navigate.🔷
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