Changing minds in a post-truth society

After reading this long article by David Roberts at Vox I've been thinking about the possible solution to his detailed analysis of the problem, tribal epistemology. Roberts has little to offer for soultions except the self-acknowledged trope "listen to each other." It may be a trope, but it is half right. I believe the answer is deeper than that, it calls for a level of communication that does not rely on statistics, but on anecdotes. Personal stories can change people's minds.

The stories I heard today on the latest Liturgists podcast, Advocacy, from Christina Cleveland and Mickey Scottbey Jones confirmed what I've been thinking. As one of them said, and the hosts confirmed, those of us with a bleeding heart perspective might be the only one in the social circle of our more conservative relatives or friends. To turn away from the opportunity to win someone close to us to a open handed posture with our personal stories is to miss the impact of a heart change instead of a empty judicial victory. However, we have to demonstrate our own openness, practicing our preaching, walking our talk, by listening to those who view the world so differently from us, who are so scared of the many bogeymen puffed up by extremist media.

I'm reminded of a turn I made myself as I would talk to the Mormon elders who would visit my home periodically. When I confronted them with the "facts" of Mormonism's dark past, something they knew nothing about, their self-protective defenses flared up and I never saw them again. But when I took the time to listen to them, and ask them about their lives, and spoke anecdotally about my own relationship with Jesus, there was nothing to threaten either of us. We could be neighborly, in the good way.

Talking about 24 million people losing health care coverage does not change most people's position on national health care. But I can tell the story of how one person in the homeless shelter I volunteer at was able to stabilize their mood swings because of access to mental health care, so they were able to stop self-medicating with street drugs, and they were able to rent an apartment with government assistance, which is much cheaper then paying for them to stay in jail without treatment. I can also listen to the story of a friend who was not able to keep their doctor after ACA and did see a significant price increase in their insurance costs and empathize with them, not judge them as greedy haters of the poor. In conversation, our self-defensive mechanisms are put to rest. We might even see a path forward together. This is a solution to our country's polarization.

We need to do more than listen. We need to converse and share our own stories, not our answers. The greatest spiritual teachers used stories to convey timeless truths. Maybe they were onto something. A man was tending his sheep and one wandered off....


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