When my kids were younger, they used to listen to a song that went like this: Everybody’s stupid, everybody’s stupid, everybody’s stupid but me.
I’m not sure where they found it, but they loved to sing it. Okay, admit it, there are days when those lyrics ring true, right? Especially when you find yourself in conversation with someone whose opinions fly in the face of everything you believe.
A friend of mine read an article recently that said when trying to convince someone to change their thinking, it does no good to quote facts or statistics. They’ll put up their guard against those arguments. The only way to get people to listen with an open mind, or at least an open heart, is to tell them a story. Something personal that brings your points home.
I would take that one step further. I’ve met people who wouldn’t care one bit if I told them the most heart-rending story about, say, an artist trying hard to succeed against enormous odds, but if I can make my points personal to the listener, I sometimes gain a little ground.
I was talking to someone the other day about, I think, the proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the “futility” of funding artists. “They give grants to poets,” she said, “yet no one I know even reads poetry anymore, including me.”
“Okay, let’s go there for a minute,” I said. “I get that poetry is not your chosen genre to read, and you have no need for it 99% of the time. But can I ask you this . . . have you ever attended a memorial service for someone you loved and read a poem the family had chosen for the program?”
She paused. “Well, yes, my dad.”
“And have you ever been to a wedding where the bride or groom or pastor chose to read a poem? Or maybe picked out a “new baby” or graduation card because you liked the poem inside?”
“So that means most of the time, most of us will have no reason to give much thought to poetry. But in the most profound moments of grief in our lives, we will turn to poetry for solace. And in the moments of greatest joy, we will turn to poetry to express our happiness. And then, during those most significant events of your life, won’t you be glad some poet is out there working hard at her art?”
The woman flashed me a lopsided smile and said, “You got me.”
This woman was not stupid, she had just never understood how art fit into her own life or how her life would be diminished without it.
Generally speaking, people who disagree with us are not stupid (although a few are willfully ignorant). They just have a different world view, and that view has been formed by their personal experiences and the stories they tell themselves.
In these divided times, and this era of fake news, we have new opportunities to engage in dialogues that will help us understand each other better. Now is not the time to write people off as “stupid.” That will get us nowhere. Now is the time to tell our stories.
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