Why and how do people change? My doctoral thesis began with those words. My research led me to define imagination as the human ability to interpret what we experience in a meaningful way. How do we imagine the world to be? How do we see it? That’s what gives meaning to our experience of life. If we can imagine it differently – see it another way – we change our experience of it and live in a different way.
Many people see Christian Nationalism as scary and terrifying, and they often equate people caught up in it with the movement itself and its leaders. Perhaps, though, many of those people are themselves afraid. Afraid and confused – and listening to movement leaders because what they say seems like common sense. If that’s true, then why not give them another way of seeing the world and making sense of what’s happening?
In The Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas tells stories of a dozen people whose work focuses on changing the way people see the world and, as a result, making different social and political choices. Anat Shenker-Osorio, a messaging consultant, uses the term “persuadables” for people who are moderates. Why? Because, she says, “they toggle between competing views of the way the world works, and whatever they hear repeated most frequently becomes ‘common sense’ and ‘what everybody thinks.’” This 50-year-old movement has done that for a long time.
Giridharadas summarizes her approach to persuasion this way:
“If Shenker-Osorio is right that persuadables aren’t looking for an average of two positions but rather for what is normal, common sense, how the world works, then the way to persuade them of your view is by making it ubiquitous around them, inescapable. …. Repetition is a really big deal. More familiar messages are rated more convincing. Never mind the content. Repetition creates cognitive ease, so people rate familiar ideas as more favorable, more convincing, and more positive.”
One of her slogans is “Painting the beautiful tomorrow.” Don’t argue with people. Don’t debate issues and policies and “truth.” Help people see a better world.
“People aren’t stirred to reduce harm. They’re motivated to create good. As many have remarked, Martin Luther King did not get famous for saying, ‘I have a complaint.’ He certainly did not get famous for saying, ‘I have a multi-bulleted list of policy proposals.’ There has to be a dream. …You’ve got to sell people on the beautiful tomorrow.”
Shenker-Osorio also gives a word of caution: “When you open with anger, what you can’t achieve is the second step—the hope. It’s not that people don’t think our ideas are right. It’s that they don’t think our ideas are possible, and so why bother?”
Do we? – Do we believe our ideas are possible? That a world of empathy and compassion for people is possible? If we can see such a world, then we must learn to describe it. To talk about what it’s like and how it can “work” for everyone. The movement drives people with fear. We want to empower people with hope. We do that by telling a different story – helping people “see” the world we want everyone to live in – and living together in that world.