‘How to convince someone when facts fail’ – this is the title of a very good and ‘must read’ article by Michael Shermer recently published in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The issue is clearly relevant to numerous discussions we have on this blog. Therefore, I will repeat Shermer’s conclusions here:
If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience,
1. keep emotions out of the exchange,
2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum),
3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately,
4. show respect,
5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and
6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.
These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.
Wise words and good strategies! But, as Shermer himself admits, they unfortunately don’t always work. This blog and the comments made by its readers provide ample examples of failures in this respect.
By and large, I try my very best to adhere to Shermer’s principles. Yet, I do not pretend that I always succeed brilliantly – on the contrary, far too often, I lose my rag. I am not particularly proud of it, but neither am I all that deeply ashamed.
The thing is that any attempt at a respectful and constructive dialogue requires the co-operation of both sides. If the opponent is continually disrespectful, offensive, dishonest, unable to grasp even the simplest concepts, etc., I often just stop the dialogue. If that does not prevent my opponent from being a belligerent nuisance, I have been known to get impatient or even rude. TO ALL WHO I OFFENDED IN 2016, I CAN ONLY SAY THIS: THERE PROBABLY WAS A GOOD REASON FOR MY BEHAVIOUR.
I know, this is not good enough, particularly as I should set an example for others. How can I expect all the commentators on this blog to be respectful and constructive, if I too loose my temper from time to time? The answer is I cannot (by the way, this is one reason why I have passed other people’s outbursts and ,so far, published them largely uncensored; as long as I cannot fully control myself, I must not censor others with the same predicament).
So, here is my resolution for 2017:
I will continue to be provocative (this is part of the ‘raison d’etre’ of this blog) but, at the same time, I will try harder to show respect, politeness and understanding. Crucially, I am herewith asking everyone to PLEASE do likewise. Failing this, I will start censoring those sections of the comments that I consider abusive; and [I almost forgot] I will ban those commentators who repeatedly need censoring.