how to talk with somebody who is wrong

Establish dialogue
When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting
Daryl Davis

I came across a gentleman by the name of Daryl Davis online a little while ago and his story absolutely fascinated me.

Daryl is an African-American musician who has spent the better part of three decades establishing dialogue with and befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

In the time since Daryl began speaking with his presumable mortal enemy, he has claimed responsibility for the voluntary resignation of up to 200 members of the KKK, including high-ranking leaders.

Imagine that: a black man sitting down with leaders of a chronically racist organisation, imploring them to change their rigid mind on a fundamental belief of theirs.

Daryl has been met with both praise and criticism from many camps and political groups, but the results really speak for themselves.

Daryl Davis teaches us that seeking to understand people we perceive as being wrong trumps the growing combative approach of recent social movements on both (all) sides of politics.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it is certainly underutilised.

In his 1988 best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey implores the reader: seek first to understand, then to be understood, as the fifth habit.

What fascinates me is that genuine empathy, personal accountability and mutual respect are huge in the booming industry of self-help and personal development, yet very few influencers are willing to implement or even recommend these traits.

Consider the behaviour of mindfulness gurus, politicians and celebrities during the election and inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

Why is this the case?

Because we are taught that those who have opposing views to us are evil and unworthy of being understood. The problem is our opponents have this same view of us, meaning we become locked in a stalemate and give each other labels to justify our ignorance.

This has been a huge challenge for me personally. I have always struggled with groups and individuals who blame each other for their problems so when I see it, I have to constantly remind myself that dialogue is superior to condemnation and to keep my cool.

It is so difficult because those who disagree with us shake the very foundations of how we believe the world to be. If our enemies are even a little bit right in what they are saying, we feel our very existence in the world we have manufactured is no more. 

In response, we don't just strongly disagree with our opponent, block our ears and ignore their reasoning. We recruit a mob, confirming our biases by only listening to, reading and watching the opinions of those who dig us into a deeper hole of philosophical isolation.

If leaders and influencers were to just act in a more considered manner, imagine what dialogue could be established with ‘those who are wrong’. The primary challenge with this is the fact that there is too much profit in hate.