When to Try to Change Someone’s Mind

This is a fact: other people are going to disagree with you. It is a normal part of a world in which adults think for themselves. It is no basis for indignation. People are wrong often and you should not need others to agree with you. This is very important for three reasons.

First, to be intellectually honest, people need to believe what they believe because of reason and evidence, not because of your pressure. We have a responsibility before God to carefully consider what is really so to make sure that we are on the right path. As Martin Luther stood trial for heresy, he famously said,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Second, if you need others to agree with you, you are giving away your contentment to something that is not within your control. Too often good people are tormented over whether bad people “get it.” Or they can’t fathom someone who doesn’t see the obvious. You ought to let that go and practice good internal boundaries.

Third, it is a valuable thing to listen to different perspectives over time. To do this, it helps to be comfortable on an emotional level with the fact that people disagree with you. It can help you think through and test your own beliefs. It could teach you something. And you can become a more well rounded person. It can make you wiser, more creative, and more innovative.

The ideas that people have about the world and themselves are part of their soul. It is a structure inside which they have known what their hopes and dreams are, who their friends are, how they are to relate to the world, and it is the basis for almost every positive and negative emotion. When someone comes to find that they, their friend, or the universe is not as they thought it was, that structure collapses, leaving nothing in its wake until a new one can painstakingly be rebuilt. That is ego death. It is, if serious enough, the sense of total numbness and despair.

Minds are scientists. They generate theories about what the world is really like. The world is complex vastly beyond the brain’s ability to process it, so first it decides where it wants to look to suit the interests it already has. Then it paints a simplified picture. The “testing” phase for most people is to follow their maps as they live out their lives, and to see if they get the results they expect. It isn’t perfect. People are bound to have errors and omissions. It is important for people to have enough of an open mind to do away with the errors when they are encountered. As I have described, that can be dangerous. It takes a great deal of bravery to do it, and not everyone wants to pay the price.

Braver still are the explorers. The seekers who yearn to pull the scales off their eyes, and to truly live in the world as it is, be it a paradise or prison. The seeker’s habit of life is “reproofs of instruction.” They want to hear the strongest of their opponent’s arguments and hold back no scrutiny from all of their dearly held convictions and beliefs. They expose the fraud of their idols. The seeker subjects his beliefs to the crucible of logic, reason, and evidence. The results are many. For one, the seeker knows the pain of dissolution. They know what it feels like for an aperture, through which light used to shine into their souls, to close. They have known themselves in a suffering foreign to many. And they have continued through it, building themselves back up piece by piece. But what they are now is of stronger metal than what they were before.

The average man distracts himself from the haunted unknown. He accepts the role that is given, and, spending his life putting on a show, he is clutched with self doubt. For the seeker, while there is always uncertainty, there are things that he enjoys a deeper sense of confidence in than the average man can know. Transcendent strength. And at the same time he stands ready to be cut down again, and to rebuild.

Having made himself out of something more than what society can form, he is foreign and frightening to them. Society is an association of politically based roles that tell people who they are, and how they are to relate to each other. The person who thinks for himself has evaluated the costume he is handed for its merits, and has made his modifications. The average person who is unwilling to process his beliefs for himself is unable to know how to interact with the seeker. His defiant existence terrifies him. Worse, the seeker is an example of another way to be. It is a whisper of what he was trying to forget—that he really doesn’t know what is going on. He doesn’t know himself, his friends, or the world. The existence of the seeker is a mortal threat. Now imagine he opens his mouth.

To be human is to be fragile. Those who are stapled together with lies especially so. We ought to have understanding and compassion for his predicament. And we ought to respect that the persona he has made for himself is the way he has chosen to carry out his life. If he isn’t hurting anyone else, there is no reason to intervene.

No, there is one reason. That is if as a false creature he must stand one day and give an account before his Maker, and his answer will determine his eternal fate. But the choice to choose truth or falsehood remains his. If he is owed anything, it is a chance to make it.

Being a seeker is lonely, because you are not psychically safe for most others. But I think being average is lonelier, because not only are you robbed of the opportunity to be authentic with other people, but you also cannot be authentic with yourself.

So it’s complicated. The more we can refine our maps, the stronger and more functional we will be. The less likely to wander off cliffs. Let me offer a few words of advice for those watching the wandering lemmings with horror.

  1. Only argue if what you have to say is true. First take some time to honestly consider if you’ve got the facts right, and if you will be guiding them in the right direction.
  2. Argue if it is helpful. Think about the consequences to the other person. There are plenty of irrelevant things you could get worked up about.
  3. Argue if it is solicited. At some point in their development people may be ready to listen and change. If they aren’t, it may not be an easy thing for them to get there. Make yourself disciplined in your thinking, demonstrate that, and be available if they are asking or open to your correction.
  4. Show that you have their best interest at heart. Be an ally in their own quest for truth. Let the thing to be attacked be the issue and not the person as much as possible.
  5. Give them space. Respect that they need to think for themselves, and not substitute your judgement for their own. They need to play around with the information and see how it works from different angles. They need to bring their own experience to bare on it and make it their own.

Wisdom, if it weighed a ton, would be worth its weight in gold. Sharing it is a very noble thing. When people embrace this, they can know the confidence that many a seeker has suffered to find. They can face the world as a free agent, navigating it in their own right. They can be real with themselves, to share that self, and perhaps to receive another true self in return.


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