Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Wheaton League of Women Voters about election issues the Daily Herald raised in a series of editorials at the end of December. The experience reinforced for me an observation I’ve long considered to be true about so-called persuasive writing, and indeed any kind of verbal argument or debate. It’s something that, if acknowledged more broadly, could help reduce our individual frustrations about people with whom we disagree and lead to more constructive, perhaps even more timely, decision making.
The idea is this: Whether in writing or verbal conversation, we humans seem to inherently expect that our words will have an immediate impact on the minds of others and persuade them to our way of thinking or to some course of action. In real life, this is almost never true. The emotion in our delivery may have an immediate impact — producing gleeful accord from our supporters or stinging, counterproducive resentment from our opponents — but the intellectual value of our words, the actual changing of minds or arousal of thought in others, occurs only over the course of time, in some cases very long periods of time.
In the matter of writing editorials, it is rare indeed to find a situation where a single statement of opinion will change or perhaps even influence a specific act. But that is not to say editorials don’t have the capacity to influence others. It’s more true to say that others will be influenced — sometimes to an editorial’s point of view, sometimes, actually, more strongly against it — only by their own ruminations about what they have read or heard.
The same is true regarding any individual argument. Think of any such conversation you’ve ever had, whether at your Thanksgiving Dinner table, around the booth in the local bar or one-on-one with a friend or adversary. How many times did you walk away with a different opinion than what you had in the beginning? How many times did the other party walk away leaving you confident he or she now shared your point of view?
But think also of issues on which you’ve been influenced — whether against your original point of view or even more strongly for it. It has happened, in my experience, because you’ve gained new experiences and because you’ve taken time to actually reflect on the arguments of others, rather than try to simply win the moment.
So it is with the editorials we publish that we don’t necessarily expect immediate agreement. Indeed, we relish the challenges or insights that may follow to deepen and help direct a conversation to a constructive conclusion.
Our elections series was a classic example. As much as we’d like to see Ranked Choice Voting adopted quickly in Illinois or new measures for selecting judges suddenly enacted or activity on any of the issues the six-part series addressed generated now, we know very well that true change occurs only as people begin building and analyzing their own views about these subjects, then, of course, gaining the momentum to create action.
That requires persistence, respect and constant dialogue. Meetings like the Wheaton LWV session in which I participated are rewarding evidence of the process at work. I’d be surprised if any minds were actually changed during the program; but I’m confident many people explored new ideas or examined old ones in new ways as they evaluated what they heard. Scores of similar organizations are constantly conducting scores of similar meetings around the suburbs on scores of similarly important topics. The degree to which they’ll be successful will depend not on how many minds may change immediately, but on how rich, deep and constructive the original conversation becomes over time.
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February 17, 2023 at 07:24PM