Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Changing Minds on the Stoop

Polarization has increased on controversial social issues. Some wonder how to find common ground. Liberal political operatives are demonstrating how to change minds.

forsaleAs explored by Ira Glass in his “This American Life” radio show, the technique involves an age-old, tried-and-true political tactic – going door to door to talk to people.

Stunned by passage of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California, backers of gay rights convened to talk strategy. Among the ideas that surfaced was a proposal most operatives viewed as futile – going into the precincts with strong Proposition 8 support to change minds.

Initial results of the canvassing were mixed, but the successes were most notable when gay men and women listened and shared their own personal experiences. In other words, minds opened when there was an authentic conversation about a tough subject.

The most productive conversations pivoted on people talking about homosexuality on their doorstep in personal terms. They mentioned a relative or friend who had come out of the closet. Canvassers followed up on those mentions, making the conversation about real people, not political viewpoints.

Conversations grew more intimate when canvassers talked about their own life experience. They didn’t push a political message, they shared their own story.

Prop 8There will be a temptation to over-analyze what happened. People who voted for Proposition 8 changed their mind. For them, the issue went from faceless to a face on their doorstep, from a testy argument to a respectful conversation.

People talking to each other has worked wonders for a long time to soften antagonisms, educate and persuade. Not all conversations result in changed minds, but few minds change without such conversations.

Politicians, at least those running for legislative or local races, routinely show up on doorsteps. But as often as not, their mission is to drop off a piece of superficial campaign literature, which is why they call these visitations “lit drops.” The occasional over-the-fence chit-chat masquerades as political discourse. Few politicians budget the time to spend 20 minutes per stoop. Their campaign energy goes to raising campaign cash and spending it on “voter contact” via advertising.

SayingRich, personal conversations about tough issues may not be practical or politically feasible. That reality may consign us to live with political gridlock, and even be party to it.

Taking the time to talk, to listen and to share could make all the difference in opening opportunities to changing minds. Even if someone doesn’t change their mind, but gains respect for his opposite’s view, then we will be better off. Talking always trumps sneering.




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