Standing against big government and for the people!
Many years ago, my now deceased father showed me a cartoon from the side of his file-cabinet in his home basement office. It was a yellowed Pogo cartoon drawn by a political cartoonist of a bygone day. It pictured two people at opposite ends of a full-length double mirror shouting at each other with angry expressions on their faces. Dad showed me the cartoon and asked me what I thought it meant.
I knew that this was a teaching moment, so I avoided the typical teenager response. I said, “Dad, it looks like an argument. Neither person is listening to the other. They are only listening to themselves.” He approved of my observation and asked me another question. “Ok son, let us add a judge and an audience. Now what do you see?” I answered. “That looks like a heated debate. They are listening enough to grab onto something to attack with. They are playing to the Judge and the audience to win approval.” He approved, and added a third question. “Now let us remove the mirror, the judge and the audience. Now what do you see?” I answered, “I see the start of a conversation. If they would just calm down and really listen to each other, they might learn something from each other.” My father responded, “Well said son . . . Very well said.” He then used another piece of Scotch ® tape to replace the cartoon to its honored place on his file cabinet. Judging from the layers of tape, I was not the first one to receive the lesson.
I was appointed Chair of the Day at my KIWANIS Club luncheon during Holy Week. The guest speaker was the Archbishop and was well known. I said, “They all know what you do, but they do not know who you are as a person. That is how I would like to introduce you.” He thought for a moment, and then said. “You must have been to a Jesuit retreat to come up with such a profound question. I am first and foremost a minister to everyone I meet. I start with where they are and invite them to walk with me to a better understanding of who they would like to become and help them get there.” That is how I introduced him. It was the shortest introduction the club members could remember. It also had one unanticipated consequence. They made me Chair of the Religious Aims Committee.
Following the lesson from my father and the sage advice of the Archbishop, I adopted this technique. First, I check to see if they are disposed to listen. I also wait for them to engage me. If they are children or adolescents still living with their parents, I do not want to by-pass their parents without their permission.
Sometimes I start with loaded questions. I remain misinformed until they get smart. This way, truth becomes their discovery, not acceptance of my own views. If they are sincere, I will say, "Here is what I have learned from others. Would you like to walk around the fence with me and explore this issue from all sides? Maybe we can figure this out together." This approach encourages "buy-in" to a solution different from their original belief. If they ask for my opinion, I will answer, "I have studied this a bit with help from others. Here is my take on this issue given what I know about it." Again, I am not talking down to them or preaching to the enemy. I am just running some ideas up the flag pole to see who salutes.
In summary, I start with where they are, walk with them to a place of better discernment, and do so in a non-combative manner. I do not interrupt them, especially if they are angry. I let them vent and ask if they are finished. If they interrupt me with another rant, I stop until they finish. I remind them that I did not interrupt them and they sought my opinion. Perhaps they should hear me out.
So how do you talk to people you disagree with and win them over to a different point of view?