The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People

Don’t try to change someone else’s mind. Instead, help them find their own motivation to change.

A few years ago, I made the mistake of having an argument with the most stubborn person I know. R., whose initial I’m using to protect his privacy, is a longtime friend, and when his family came to visit, he mentioned that his children had never been vaccinated — and never would be.

I’m no proponent of blindly giving every vaccination to every newborn, but I was concerned for his children’s safety, so I started debunking some common vaccine myths. After days of debate, I was exhausted and exasperated. Determined to preserve our friendship, I vowed never to talk with him about vaccines again.

Then came 2020. Fear of the vaccine may be the greatest barrier to stopping Covid-19. It stretches far beyond the so-called anti-vaxxer community: About half of Americans harbor questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines; 39 percent say they definitely or probably won’t get one.

I decided to see if I could open R.’s mind to the possibility. What I didn’t realize was that my mind would be opened as well.

As an organizational psychologist, I’ve spent the past few years studying how to motivate people to think again. I’ve run experiments that led proponents of gun rights and gun safety to abandon some of their mutual animosity, and I even got Yankees fans to let go of their grudges against Red Sox supporters. But I don’t always practice what I teach.

When someone seems closed-minded, my instinct is to argue the polar opposite of their position. But when I go on the attack, my opponents either shut down or fight back harder. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a “logic bully.”

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.

That’s what happened with my friend. If I wanted him to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines, I had to rethink my approach.

Several decades ago, when treating substance abuse problems, psychologists developed a technique called motivational interviewing. The central premise: Instead of trying to force other people to change, you’re better off helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change. You do that by interviewing them — asking open-ended questions and listening carefully — and holding up a mirror so they can see their own thoughts more clearly. If they express a desire to change, you guide them toward a plan.

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Say you’re a student at Hogwarts, and you want to help your uncle reject Voldemort. You might start like this:

You: I’d love to better understand your feelings about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Uncle: Well, he’s the most powerful wizard alive. Also, his followers promised me a fancy title.

You: Interesting. Is there anything you dislike about him?

Uncle: Hmm. I’m not crazy about all the murdering.

You: Well, nobody’s perfect. What’s stopped you from abandoning him?

Uncle: I’m afraid he might direct the murdering toward me.

You: That’s a reasonable fear — I’ve felt it too. Are there any principles that matter so deeply to you that you’d be willing to take that risk?

In controlled trials, motivational interviewing has helped people to stop smoking, abusing drugs and alcohol, and gambling; to improve their diets and exercise; to overcome eating disorders; and to lose weight. The approach has also motivated students to get a good night’s sleep; voters to reconsider their prejudices; and divorcing parents to reach settlements.

Recently, thanks to a vaccine whisperer, it has been applied to immunization. Arnaud Gagneur is a pediatrician in Quebec who encourages reluctant parents to immunize their children. In his experiments, a motivational interview in the maternity ward after birth increased the number of mothers willing to vaccinate their children from 72 percent to 87 percent; the number of children who were fully vaccinated two years later rose by 9 percent. A single conversation was enough to change behavior over the next 24 months.

I set up a conversation between Dr. Gagneur and my friend. After 90 minutes, it was clear to me that R.’s vaccination stance had not changed.

“I have tried to apply all the principles of motivational interviewing, but I have had the unpleasant feeling of not doing so well,” Dr. Gagneur wrote to me in email. “R. is very knowledgeable and always ends up finding arguments that support his decision.”

Strangely, I didn’t feel defeated or irritated. I wanted to learn how my friend’s views could evolve.

The pioneers of motivational interviewing, William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, have long warned against using the technique to manipulate people. It requires a genuine desire to understand people’s motivations and help them reach their goals. Although R. and I both want to keep his children healthy, I realized I had never tried to understand his perspective on vaccines before. So the next morning, I called him.

In our past debates, R. had focused only on the potential downsides of vaccinations. With Dr. Gagneur, though, he acknowledged that vaccines could be good for some but not necessarily for others. If he lived in a country experiencing an outbreak of, say, malaria, would he consider immunization? “You weigh the pros and cons,” he said.

Psychologists find that when we listen carefully and call attention to the nuances in people’s own thinking, they become less extreme and more open in their views. I wondered how my friend’s ambivalence applied to Covid, and I knew that the kinds of questions I asked would matter. Social scientists have found that asking people how their preferred political policies might work in practice, rather than asking why they favor those approaches, was more effective in opening their minds. As people struggled to explain their ideal tax legislation or health care plan, they grasped the complexity of the problem and recognized gaps in their knowledge.

So for my second attempt, instead of asking R. why he was opposed to Covid vaccines, I asked him how he would stop the pandemic. He said we couldn’t put all our eggs in one basket — we needed a stronger focus on prevention and treatment. When I asked whether vaccines would be part of his strategy, he said yes — for some people.

I was eager to learn what might lead R. to decide that he is one of those people. In motivational interviewing, there’s a distinction between sustain talk and change talk. Sustain talk is commentary about maintaining the status quo. Change talk is referencing a desire, ability or commitment to making a shift. A skilled motivational interviewer listens for change talk and asks people to elaborate on it. This was my third step.

I asked R. what the odds were that he would get a Covid vaccine. He said they were “pretty low for many different reasons.” I told him it was fascinating to me that he didn’t say zero.

“This is not a black-and-white issue,” R. said. “I don’t know, because my views change.” I laughed: “This is a milestone — the most stubborn person I know admits that he’s willing to change his mind?” He laughed too: “No, I’m still the most stubborn person you know! But at different stages of our lives, we have different things that are important to us, right?”

I don’t expect R. or his children to be vaccinated any time soon, but it felt like progress that he agreed to keep an open mind. The real breakthrough, though, was mine. I became open to a new mode of conversation, with no points to score and no debate to win. The only victory I declared was against my own prosecutor tendencies. I had prevailed over my inner logic bully.

Many people believe that to stop a deadly pandemic, the end justifies whatever means are necessary. It’s worth remembering that the means are a measure of our character. If we succeed in opening minds, the question is not only whether we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. We should also ask whether we’re proud of how we’ve achieved it.

I no longer believe it’s my place to change anyone’s mind. All I can do is try to understand their thinking and ask if they’re open to some rethinking. The rest is up to them.

The Struggle to Stay Human Amid the Fight

World War I and the adversarial mentality.

It’s the eternal argument. When you are fighting a repulsive foe, the ends justify any means and serve as rationale for any selfishness.

Dax’s struggle is not to change the war or to save lives. That’s impossible. The war has won. The struggle is simply to remain a human being, to maintain some contact with goodness in circumstances that are inhumane.

Disillusionment was the classic challenge for the generation that fought and watched that war. Before 1914, there was an assumed faith in progress, a general trust in the institutions and certainties of Western civilization. People, especially in the educated classes, approached life with a gentlemanly, sporting spirit.

As Paul Fussell pointed out in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” the upper classes used genteel words in place of plain ones: slumber for sleep, the heavens for the sky, conquer for win, legion for army.

The war blew away that gentility, those ideals and that faith in progress. Ernest Hemingway captured the rising irony and cynicism in “A Farewell to Arms.” His hero is embarrassed “by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression, in vain.” He had seen nothing sacred in the war, nothing glorious, just meaningless slaughter.

.. European culture suffered a massive disillusion during the conflict — no God, no beauty, no coherence, no meaning, just the cruel ironic joke of life. Cynicism breeds a kind of nihilism, a disbelief in all values, an assumption that others’ motives are bad.

Fussell wrote that the war spread an adversarial mentality. The men in the trenches were obsessed with the enemy — those anonymous creatures across no man’s land who rained down death. “Prolonged trench warfare, whether enacted or remembered, fosters paranoid melodrama,” he wrote.

The “versus habit” construes reality as us versus them — a mentality that spread through British society. It was the officers versus the men, and, when they got home, the students at university versus the dons.

George Orwell wrote that he recognized the Great War mentality lingering even in the 1930s in his own left-wing circles — the same desire to sniff out those who departed from party orthodoxy, the same retelling of mostly false atrocity stories, the same war hysteria. As Christopher Isherwood put it, all the young people who were ashamed of never having fought in the war brought warlike simplicities to political life.

.. Some of the disillusioned drop out of public life, since it’s all meaningless. But others want to burn it all down because it’s all rotten. Moderation is taken for cowardice. Aggression is regarded as courage. No conciliatory word is permitted when a fighting word will do.

Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War, but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the specter that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight.

Richard Rohr: Hinduism: Action and Contemplation

Krishna has even been called “The Unknown Christ of Hinduism”—the same mystery of spirit and matter that we Western Christians, with our dualistic minds, struggled to put together in Jesus.

Krishna, like Jesus, also shows the integration of action and contemplation. The Gita does not counsel that we all become monks or solitaries. Rather, Lord Krishna tells Prince Arjuna that the true synthesis is found in a life-long purification of motive, intention, and focus in our world of action.

How can we do “pure action”? Only by gradually detaching from all the fruits of action and doing everything purely for the love of God, Lord Krishna teaches.

Jesus says the same thing in several places (Mark 12:30, for example): “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus even counsels the same love toward the neighbor (Matthew 22:39). The only way to integrate action and contemplation is to go ahead and do your action, but every day to ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it to make money? Is it to have a good reputation? Is it to keep busy? Or is it for the love of God? Then you will discover the true Doer!

.. Reflect on these passages from the Bhagavad Gita (4:18, 23-24):

The wise see that there is action in the midst of inaction,
and inaction in the midst of action.
Their consciousness is unified,
and every act is done with complete awareness.

When a man has let go of attachments,
when his mind is rooted in wisdom,
everything he does is worship,
and his actions all melt away.

God is the offering. God
is the offered, poured out by God;
God is attained by all those
who see God in every action.

 

Scott Adams: Why Would Putin Meddle in Our Election?

Have you noticed how Michael Cohen stuff has pushed down the Helsinki news conference?

Why would Trump say: I don’t know why he wouldn’t?

Trump was putting his own ego lower than Putins.

Now we know that Trump doesn’t have any confidence problems.

Think of Trump’s statement as a hypnotist.

When he says “I don’t know why he would“, he’s getting to motivation.  It wasn’t intended to be factual, but persuasive.

Everyone who has evaluated it as a statement of fact, but it’s talking about Putin’s motivations, which he had just changed.

In the meeting, he had just made a big impact on Putin’s motivations.

There is a tit-for-tat-for-tit-for-tat forever.

If Trump removed his reasons and have him a virtual pardon.

Trump did the same thing with Kim Jong Il, he make a better offer.  He took the reason away.

CNN covered story of Putin offer to interview 12 indictments, but it was never plausible.

The death of the archetypal Russian villain

THE cold war was fought as much in the imagination as on the battlefield. Each side sought to project images of social and cultural superiority; stories of people corrupted by the decadent West or persecuted by the KGB were turned into weapons. This struggle was largely waged on screen, in shows and films that were subject to varying degrees of government involvement. When the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union followed, writers and directors put down their arms. Barely any films about the cold war were made in the years immediately following its end.

..  For example, Ivan Drago, the antagonist of “Rocky IV” (1985), was an emotionless brute: “If he dies,” he memorably says of a defeated American boxer, “he dies.” So was Podovsky, a Russian torturer, in the “Rambo” series. In “From Russia With Love” (1963), the assassin Rosa Klebb relished inflicting pain on both her compatriots and her enemies

.. the rare female communist was either a nymphomaniac or frigid and repressed.”

.. “They” were cold-blooded criminals, subversives and deviants; “we” were enlightened defenders of democracy and freedom. Even in grittier, more realistic works, the motivations of communist characters were rarely explored. They existed mostly as “foils against which the men of the West demonstrated their superior skills,”

.. These hard-faced psychopaths have now been ousted by richly textured Soviet citizens. “The Americans” is concerned as much with the marriage of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, the Russian agents (pictured), and the trials of raising their children in America, as with espionage.

.. The pair grapple with guilt and the meaning of freedom.

.. So human are these characters, in fact, that viewers are persuaded not only to empathise with them, but to hope they evade capture—even as they kill and blackmail Americans.

.. In these stories, the idea of Western superiority—either moral or professional—is questionable.

.. In the case of “The Americans”, it can be laughable: one of the series’ funniest moments comes when the head of counter-intelligence at the FBI discovers that his secretary has secretly married a KGB officer.

.. The villain of “The Shape of Water” is not Mosenkov but a repulsive American colonel.

.. The overseers of “The Americans”—Joe Weisberg, himself a former CIA officer

.. They enlisted Masha Gessen, a Russian-American writer, to ensure their Russian dialogue would feel idiomatic.

.. Now the production team has been “able to spend time in the Stasi archives, to spend time with people who were on the East German side,” Mr Cornwell says. “There is room in the six-hour format to explore both sides.”

.. faith in Western spooks has drastically decreased in the wake of the Iraq war and recent surveillance scandals.

.. despite Vladimir Putin’s election-meddling and revanchism, most English-speaking viewers no longer feel they face an existential threat from Russia.

.. The imperative to deflect criticism outward, so conspicuous in the 1980s, no longer applies.

.. Used to navigating moral minefields in shows such as “The Wire” and “The Sopranos”, viewers have outgrown simplistic tales of good and evil. Proof was offered by “Red Sparrow”, a film released earlier this year that starred Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian seductress targeting a CIA agent.

.. It was “designed to make Americans feel good about [themselves] by showing how much nicer [their] spies are than their Russian counterparts,” says Denise Youngblood, a historian of Russian and Soviet cinema. Judging by its box-office performance, the formulaic plot was a turn-off.

.. Because Russia has always been a land of villains,” Rodric Braithwaite, a former British ambassador to Moscow, once wrote, “it is also a land of heroes and saints.” Hollywood is at last imaginative enough to make room for all of them.

Have You Ever Seen Donald Trump Laugh?

As Trump himself might say, there’s something going on.

The less honest you are with yourself, the less likely you are to laugh.

.. “Self-deception inhibits laughter.”

.. “There’s a huge correlation showing that people who score high in self-deception laugh less,” Lynch told me. Furthermore, he said, “there’s a pretty robust correlation between self-deception and an inflated ego, or unwarranted high self-esteem. Some of the self-deception is telling yourself that you’re greater, more powerful, smarter than you are.”

.. It’s a lot harder to laugh when you don’t recognize absurdity. Think of how much Trump must have had to lie to himself, perhaps even unconsciously, in order to convince millions that Obama was born in Kenya
.. (By the way, the liars-laugh-less formulation doesn’t work in reverse: People who don’t laugh aren’t necessarily self-deceptive or narcissistic at all.
.. some people don’t laugh out of low self-esteem. “Self-deception,” Lynch estimates, “explains about 20 percent of why people don’t laugh.” Besides, if we didn’t tell ourselves little white lies, he adds, “we wouldn’t get out of the bed in the morning.”)
.. “Superficially, the problem that torments Trump is trade. But his language—they ‘beat’ us and ‘laugh’ at us—provokes the emotional power of shame,”
..  “all about shame—avoiding it himself, and inflicting it on others.”
..  As his biographer, I see it in his struggle to satisfy a strict and demanding father and his banishment, at age 13, to a military academy in Upstate New York where, Trump has said, he was subject to violence at the hands of Army veterans who staffed the school.
.. Trump was major-shamed again, D’Antonio writes, “when he lost his Trump Airline and the Plaza Hotel and became a symbol of failure in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Out of this defeat he fashioned a comeback that saw him become richer and more famous than ever.”
.. At the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, for example, President Obama coolly humiliated the birther-in-chief, getting the crowd and soon the whole world to laugh at him, while Trump sat there stone-faced. In all likelihood, that experience motivated him to finally make a real run for the presidency.
.. As best we can tell, Trump’s whole psychological dynamic might be explained as a serial encounter with public shame over his fear of inadequacy.
.. Like Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, Trump likes the thrill of getting so close to being exposed and still winning—until, of course, he finally loses, which may be what he really wants
.. “laughter relieves shame.” Laughing, especially at oneself, “is one of the main ways in which shame can be dissipated or released.”