Don’t believe everything you think

When you believe something all evidence points to the truth of your point of view. To get people to change their beliefs is very difficult.

When we watch films we “suspend our disbelief.” We don’t sit in the dark theater watching a thriller, animation, or even romantic comedy saying, “That is not possible.” If the movie is engaging we sit back with our $4 popcorn and $3 soda and watch the story unfold. We identify with the characters and are engaged in their plight whether they are a dancing toaster, a super hero, or a mafia don.

So, one technique for getting people to change their belief is to ask them to “suspend their belief” just for a short time, an hour or two, and then have them write down the facts, preferable on manipulabile, like different shaped blocks, and then reconstruct the evidence to prove a different point of view or belief.

It’s probably best to start with something they don’t have a big stake in and then recreate the exercise with something they do have a big stake in. For instance, if you are going to try and have pro-Israeli Jews try understand the Palestinian position or visa-versa, the invasion of Lebanon might not be the best place to start. It’s too raw.

Anyway, at some point, the light bulb has to want to change, so this is best done with people who are serious about solving a particular problem, need to change their attitude, perspective or belief.

This exercise may not make them change a person change their behavior right away but it will often cause them to consider another position. Some ignored the process and continued down their usual path ignoring any deep lessons. The students who gained the most from this process often became quite angry with me as they began to question their beliefs.

As they began to expand their view and expectations about a subject, it caused them to question other areas of their lives and caused a cognitive dissonance and discomfort. The solution they originally had intended suddenly became more complex, more risky, and in all ways, more challenging. Gone was the comfort of the familiar. Suddenly, I had made their task and their life more difficult. Worst of all, I did not provide answers to their questions, but instead, helped them on their path of finding their own solutions.

Over time, as they began to construct something positive in the new paradigm, they sometimes experienced a catharsis and found it life changing. The groups of students who went through it together formed deep bonds that spanned traditional demographic boundaries that normally kept them distant.

One student describes it as: “At school and at work, I looked for new ways to approach problems and solutions… I wanted to view situations from different perspectives…. I am now always looking in different directions and accepting different views.”


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