The Wind and the Sun
It’s curious the things we retain from childhood. I can’t say I remember much from those days. And yet, one story I heard as a tot has stayed with me for all these many, many, many, many years. It’s Aesop’s fable of The Sun and the Wind. In case you don’t know it, it goes like this:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the question of efficacy as it relates to current efforts by various warring groups within our citizenry.
Whichever tribe you’re a member of, chances are that right now, you’re convinced the people from the other tribe are one or more of the following things: naïve, deluded, evil, misinformed, unpatriotic, ignorant, selfish, blind, stubborn, shameless, brainwashed, heartless, lunatic, or simply stupid. The leaders they admire are either fascists, commies, liars, sinners, fanatics, hypocrites, socialists, maniacs, tyrants, or conspiracy peddlers. By following such leaders, these people are destroying America and putting us all at risk.
I’m quite certain the previous paragraph made you think I was talking about them and not you. Of course, you’re right. And by God, we have to stop them. But how? What exactly do we want to happen with regard to those crackpots?
If we’re honest, we’d all like those other people to just go away. As great as that sounds (I mean, what a relief, am I right?), I’m sure you can see the complete impracticality of that hope. We are, after all, fellow countrymen and women. And just like roommates whose names are both on the lease, no one is moving out. So, let’s go with the assumption that we will never become a nation of people who all share the same philosophies. We were never designed to be.
Another misguided (though enticing) approach to the problem is to just refuse to engage with the bastards. That tactic would be fine, were it not for the fact that we are compelled to collaborate in creating laws and policies that we all have to follow. Also, sometimes, unavoidably, we end up living or working in the same places, which sometimes requires interaction with our sworn enemies. I’m not saying it’s pleasant; I mean, you know how those people are. But when I hear (as I often do these days) “You can’t talk to those people,” I’m not convinced it’s a workable solution. Clearly, it hasn’t kept us from going at each other in horrible ways. People are hurting and killing each other. That’s where we’re at.
So, what’s the plan? Remember, I’m writing today about efficacy—not who’s right, or how things should be, or what's the most satisfying, but what works . . . and more importantly, what doesn’t.
As I watch neighbors rioting, looting, screaming, fighting, name calling, threatening each other, dismissing each other, mocking each other, insulting each other, even killing each other, these actions strike me as, among other things, manifestly impractical. If we take an honest look, it’s clear that none of these methods are getting us what we want. People aren’t leaving, they aren’t shutting up, and they aren’t changing their minds.
The wind blew and blew, and the man just held tighter to his coat.
In his Curmudgeon-recommended book, Love Your Enemies, author Arthur C. Brooks writes convincingly about the important difference between anger and contempt:
“While anger is often perceived as a negative emotion, research shows that its social purpose is not actually to drive others away but rather to remove problematic elements of a relationship and bring people back together . . . while anger seeks to bring someone back into the fold, contempt seeks to exile. It attempts to mock, shame, and permanently exclude from relationships by belittling, humiliating, and ignoring. So while anger says, ‘I care about this,’ contempt says, ‘You disgust me. You are beneath caring about.’”
I’m not advocating for softening our beliefs or losing our anger—even rage—at injustice and heartlessness and the violation of citizens’ rights. I’m not suggesting we stop protesting, loudly and passionately, speaking truth to power and making our voices heard. I’m not talking about compromise, or meeting in the middle, or giving merit to an opposing point of view if it’s unreasonable or harmful.
But I am contending that we will either find a way to reason with each other or we will essentially abandon ourselves to an ongoing and chaotic civil war. I’m suggesting we hold onto at least enough respect to believe people on the other side still possess the ability to debate, discuss, and learn.
But no one does any of those things as a result of seeing a snarky meme or getting yelled at. No one’s beliefs have ever been changed by a blow to the head. No one, having been on the receiving end of a clever insult, responds “I see it now. I’ve been wrong all along.” No one has seen the light by being threatened.
What’s more, enacting laws that make others behave in ways you agree with is also, ultimately, less effective than it may seem. You’ll have things your way for a few years, maybe a decade. Meanwhile, the other side—still believing as they always have—will fight you at every turn. Eventually, they’ll have things back their way, and it’ll be your turn to fight. That’s what we get from trying to legislate our version of enlightenment into existence.
I suggest we reintroduce ourselves to the elegant art of persuasion. Persuasion requires of us that we attribute sense and intelligence to our opponents, that we speak to rather than at, and that we listen—really listen—not just to collect fodder for firing back with mockery, but to address and refute our opponents’ objections. Persuasion makes an appeal to ideas like logic and fairness and reason.
I know that many find the idea of engaging in this way highly distasteful. Many will claim that such efforts are futile. I say our current techniques of mockery, dismissal, and violence are futile, and that respectful persuasion is the only approach that carries any hope of success.
That’s the lesson of Aesop’s fable: persuasion is more effective than aggression. What the hell: At this point, we might as well give it a try.