Eight thousand index cards, all with hand-written ideas and quotes and observations. That’s what I’m in the process of converting into .txt files. Yesterday, after transferring another ten or so, I came across some advice I’d given myself. “Never try to change someone’s mind…”
But why? Why is attempting to change someone’s mind such a fool’s errand? Let’s take smoking as an example. The majority of people know that it’s a dumbass thing to do. They know that it rots lungs, causes cancer, and eventually, results in a premature death. And the majority of smokers and non-smokers know that second-hand smoke is just as harmful when breathed in by others as it is when inhaled directly. Yet, smokers persist, and will not be persuaded to stop. They know the truth and yet they won’t change their mind, no matter the pressure from loved ones and unloved ones.
The reason the pressure heaped upon them by individuals—and even by society itself—is ineffective is because no-one changes their mind against their will. Human beings are stubborn. If we are to do a thing, we must be the ones who decide to do it. When it comes to our own lives we are all tyrants, allowing no-one save ourselves to utter even the slightest command. However we do it—via sober consideration of evidence, prolonged reflection, or arbitrary rationalisation—we must be the ones who make the final decision as to what we think, and why.
But what if you really want to change another person’s mind? What if you’re a propagandist, trying to disseminate lies, or a truth-seeker, trying to enlighten the world? You’re compelled, at the least, to try. So here’s a metaphor that sheds some light on how to go about it.
The truth or the lie you’re trying to spread is a poison. All you can do is administer it. You can slip it into their glass of wine, mix it into their food, or inject it right into their neck, but after that is done, you can do nothing. You must allow the poison to course through the body and do its own work.
That is how it is with the provision of the true and the false. We can spread them, exposing as many people as we please, but we cannot determine, decelerate or accelerate their effect. We can only deliver. After that, we must trust to the potency of the concoction to bypass the natural and artificial defences it will encounter. We can tell the truth or we can tell lies, but whether people listen, and what they choose to do with what they hear, is not within our power to control. We can only only provide the dose and pray it works as intended.