I gave up “bridge-building” years ago – at least with people who will never choose to cross over or even meet in the middle. When we are in direct conflict with our goals and values, I can challenge it, but not persuade anyone to change. When it comes to the movement now called Christian Nationalism, I have decided to challenge the movement with a goal of minimizing its power but without a goal of changing it.
At the same time, a new book (Anand Giridharadas, The Persuaders) tells stories of social activists and political leaders who have learned that some people – the “persuadables” – can be persuaded to see another way. Loretta Ross – activist, public intellectual, professor – says that we can do more than “call out” someone with whom we disagree. We can also “call in” with love. Here’s what she says:
“For me, calling in is a callout done with love. You’re actually holding people accountable. But you’re doing so through the lens of love. It’s not giving people a pass on accountability—like you don’t have to pay attention to the fact that they said something racist or that they caused harm to another person. No. It’s not ignoring it. But it’s about seeing a pathway or multiple pathways for addressing accountability through the lens of love.” (p.47)
Ms. Ross reminds us that most people see themselves as good people with good motivations. Rather than challenge their self-image (if you don’t agree), she says, “help them lean into that internal exploration of themselves and show them how to bolster that self-perception of them being good people by walking them through examples” of how they would choose in certain situations to do what is good. That’s where we find common ground. And she continues:
“You have to be in a loving, healing space to call anybody in. You can’t do it from anger, because it’s just going to end up badly. So you have to assess why you’re doing it. What’s your motivation? Are you trying to help this person learn, or are you actually trying to change them?” … “You can’t change other people. You can’t even change the person you’re married to. You can help people. You can expose people to different information and help them learn—if you do so with love.” (p.55)
Her story and approach to persuasion with people who seem to be opposed offer a core strategy for engaging people in a movement we oppose. Whether our goal is to CHALLENGE or to PERSUADE, empathy and compassion for the person – even if their words or actions appall us – are necessary. To be in that “loving, healing space,” refusing to let anger motivate us, we engage the person with concern for their good (which is what love is). And our goal is to “expose people to different information and help them learn.”
George Lakoff’s model of Strict Father / Nurturant Parent values – with its moral and political impact – has been a major influence on my thinking and practice since I discovered it 15 years ago. Sometimes I think “these people live in a different world.” In a way, we do live in different “worlds,” with different worldviews – ways of understanding how the world “works” – when we operate out of one set of values or the other. There is always overlap, of course, but it’s important to understand the basic difference. Here’s his summary:
The strict father is moral authority and master of the household, dominating the mother and children and imposing needed discipline. Contemporary conservative politics turns these family values into political values: hierarchical authority, individual discipline, military might.
The nurturant parent model has two equal parents, whose job is to nurture their children and teach their children to nurture others. Nurturance has two dimensions: empathy and responsibility, for oneself and others. Responsibility requires strength and competence. The strong nurturing parent is protective and caring, builds trust and connection, promotes family happiness and fulfillment, fairness, freedom, openness, cooperation, and community development. These are the values of strong progressive politics.
You can find much more detail about Lakoff’s model on our Imagine learning community site, along with an introduction to Christian Nationalism, interviews with national leaders, and other learning resources. I hope you will take some time to see what’s there and decide to join our learning community working for a better world.