Thursday, July 16, 2020

How to Persuade Another Person

When I was young I held the simple idea that there were good guys and bad guys. We played cops and robbers, Americans and Nazis, Batman and this week's Gotham City underworld villain. One day, as we were playing cowboys and Indians, an older child said to us, "You know, the Indians didn't think they were bad. They thought they were good." We ignored him in the moment, continuing our game, but it was never again the same.

I didn't know it at the time, of course, but this was the beginning of the end for my whole good guy-bad guy dichotomy. The older child, having not long ago been our age, fully understood where we were coming from on the subject and had introduced an idea that caused me to recognize that my ideas were in conflict with themselves. As I stewed on the notion over the following days, it was painful to realize that even the Nazis had probably thought they were good, that even the robbers had more to their story.

The only thing left of this old worldview were superheroes, fully fictional characters, who live in a less complex fantasy universe, which is the only place the simple idea of good and bad could survive.

This was an era in which we played together outdoors with minimal supervision, so I doubt our parents were more than passingly aware of the specifics of any game we played, but I'm certain that had our adults known we were portraying Indians as "bad" they would have told us were wrong and forbidden us from playing our game. Indeed, we would have likely been lectured, and the lesson we would have learned was to not play that game in front of the adults again.

The way to move a person's thoughts and feelings is not by trying to excise them and replace them with other thoughts and feelings. Rather, it first requires us to fully understand that persons' thoughts and feelings, which the older boy already did with with us, having only recently been a devotee of the good guy-bad guy dichotomy. Most of the time, however, this means creating a space for the person to articulate his or her own thoughts as we listen, asking honest questions with the goal of fully understanding their point of view from every angle until their ideas begin to conflict with themselves. This is the opportunity. This is when complexity shows itself. In turn, complexity invites us to think and it's while we think that learning happens.

If we are going to move a person's thoughts and feelings, which is what we try to do when we seek to persuade another person, we rarely succeed through argument, no matter how rational. And no mind has ever been changed through scolding, shaming, or lecturing. No, if we are going to move a person's thoughts and feelings, we need them to think, and that will only happen when we strive to understand that other person through actively listening and earnestly questioning until complexities emerge. The rest is up to them.


The countdown has begun for The Play First Summit! Please join us for this free event featuring twenty of the world's top early childhood and parenting thought leaders, including Janet Lansbury, Peter Gray, Lisa Murphy, Ijumaa Jordan, Maggie Dent, and Cheng Xuequin (Anji Play). This is not just another series of lectures, but rather a collection of conversations about our challenging times, how they are impacting young children and families, what we can do about it, and how we might seize this moment to transform the early years into what they ought to be for children everywhere. To see the full list of speakers and to register, click here.

Also, Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.

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