Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
How often do you struggle to connect with a loved one who holds a different set of beliefs, values or opinions from you? Has there been a time when you earnestly tried to change someone’s mind about an important issue? Do you think most people are open to the possibility of rethinking their firmly held beliefs? How open are you to changing your own views?
In “The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People,” Adam Grant, a psychologist, writes about the challenges of trying to change someone’s mind:
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.
Dr. Grant continues, explaining the concept of “motivational interviewing”:
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.
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.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
How often do you interact with people who hold different opinions or values from you? Can you get along well with those who don’t share your views? Are those relationships valuable because of those differences — or in spite of them? How important is it to engage in conversations with people whose ideas clash with our own?
Dr. Grant writes that when we engage in confrontation, “our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right.” He also uses the term “logic bully” to describe people who vehemently express their opinions. Have you ever been in an argument with a “logic bully” — or been the bully yourself? How did that conversation go? Do you think doggedness — or refusing to back down — is necessary when it comes to confrontation? Or does it end up doing more harm than good in your experience?
According to the article, rebutting someone’s point of view can make that person more certain of his or her own opinions. How worried are you about falling prey to the same fallacy? Has your sense of pride ever made you hesitant to about accepting new information that could change your mind? How might someone combat that instinct?
What do you think of the concept of “motivational interviewing”? How important is it to listen to opposing views — even those that clash with our own values — instead of pushing back on them? Is it challenging to have a discussion with someone who might know more than you? How might you apply motivational interviewing in your own life, if at all?
Can you recall a specific time when you were able to change someone’s mind? Did that person’s open-mindedness surprise you? Alternatively, have you ever had your mind changed after a thoughtful discussion? What was that experience like?
About Student Opinion
• Find all of our Student Opinion questions in this column.
• Have an idea for a Student Opinion question? Tell us about it.
• Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning.
Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.