Engaging Conversations is the fourth and final instalment in the Reaching others series that helps us have honest conversations in which we seek common truth even with those who have differing opinions.
What do I do if they listen neither to facts nor to logic?
We examine what makes conversations captivating and what inspires reflection. When information is presented in a story, it can reach us deeply. Metaphors can provide an instinctive understanding. With questions on the other hand, we can gently guide the attention of others to a place where we can reach common truth.
Pushing new, outside information onto someone can be difficult since that information may not fit well within their map. Thus, oftentimes, such information gets filtered out. Instead, it’s a better strategy to try to use questions to highlight the latent conflict between the person’s authentic values and beliefs and those that are, unbeknownst to them, skilfully imposed onto them through media propaganda and state coercion. Once that conflict becomes visible in a person’s mind, it becomes difficult to ignore it and may lead the person to reevaluate their beliefs.
With a positive mindset and an understanding of each other’s perception of reality, we can engage in successful conversations with others.
We can reach others on different levels. If we go deep enough, a change can take place. We mentioned earlier how the map spans throughout different levels of our mind. Deep questions can affect change and with the understanding of the model of our mind we can more easily observe which levels of our mind such questions can reach. Good stories and meaningful metaphors also possess the ability to reach those levels of our mind and affect change.
Here we investigate how we can convey important ideas through stories, metaphors and questions.
A story contains information that is woven into a certain context and is delivered with feeling. 
Before the development of written language, oral narratives were humanity’s way of imparting knowledge and wisdom to new generations. We are therefore wired to respond to and embrace stories.
We still remember fairy tales we heard as children. Many of them contained important moral and developmental lessons, but we don’t often think about the fact that they still affect us as adults.
They reach us deeply
When information is wrapped into a story, it reaches us on a deep subconscious level. That way, the information circumvents and moves past the conscious resistance.
Studies in cognitive learning have shown that stories are almost ten times more memorable than just dry facts. In his 2003 book Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life, the American psychologist Jerome Seymour Bruner (1915–2016) contributed significant insights into educational psychology and was one of the first modern researchers who studied the importance of stories. 
Nevertheless, the value of stories was already observed in antiquity. It was the Greek philosopher Plato (427–347 b.c.) who realized the importance of stories and is purported to have said “Those who tell stories rule society”. 
Ivermectin on trial
To illustrate the inherent power of stories, we choose the story of 81-year-old farmer John Swanson who ended up on a ventilator, presumably with covid and low survival expectancy, at a United Memorial Medical Center, NY USA in March 2021. 
Due to his family’s advice, John was given a dose of ivermectin and began to breathe on his own without the support of a ventilator. Ivermectin has many uses, including the treatment of parasites. Ivermectin’s discoverers received a Nobel Prize in 2015 and the medicine has been used in over four billion doses over the years, with very good efficacy and mild side effects. [5,6]
However, the hospital refused to continue the treatment because ivermectin was not formally approved for covid. The family then went to court and won the case. John was treated with four more doses and survived.
This story contains several important facts woven into it; Ivermectin can save lives, there are other effective treatments for covid, doctors can be wrong, authorities have tried to withhold life-saving treatment, the pros and cons of the treatment have been scrutinized in court and the media has not reported this and several other similar cases, which may seem strange given that they otherwise view the disease so seriously.
We think through metaphors. A metaphor equates two different things for the sake of comparison or symbolism. My brother is the black sheep of the family, is a figure of speech where the brother metaphorically is equated with a black sheep to describe his standing in the family. For simplicity sake, we also include parables, similes and analogies into the concept of metaphors. 
Metaphors structure our thoughts. We think through them both when we reason within ourselves or with others. Metaphors serve as a thought model on which we can attach our ideas and thoughts.
In this material we have extensively used metaphors, for example; verbal tennis match, Freud’s iceberg, the rider and the horse, seesaw, the map, filter, the hotel of knowledge.
The media often uses metaphors to simplify and provide an intuitive but superficial understanding of an issue. Flattening the curve is one such example.
Information delivered together with a metaphor can provide understanding. Metaphors are a powerful communication tool since they deliver the information from the conscious to the unconscious mind where that information can influence people’s perception. The people we are trying to reach already have an intuitive and partially subconscious understanding of one of the things making up the metaphor. The metaphor helps us link that understanding to another thing.
Since the metaphors we use are already known to the person we are talking to, the transfer of potentially contentious information becomes relatively safe when that connection is made through the metaphor. In that way, the metaphor helps to establish a secure communication channel.
Aristotle (384–322 b.c.), a Greek philosopher and Plato’s disciple, saw metaphors as valuable. He said: “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor … a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity of the dissimilar.” 
Don’t step into the ring
Now we will examine how the expression stepping into the ring can serve as a metaphor. We connect what we know and feel about a boxing match to a situation when we talk to someone. 
In a boxing match, the goal is to win by defeating the opponent and we are constantly on the attack. It can be compared to a conversational situation where we are ideologically opposed to someone and it is important for us to prove to them that we are right and that they are wrong. In such a case we don’t listen to one another. That’s why it’s important that we don’t step into the ring.
We can further develop this metaphor by saying that we should instead be in someone’s (ring) corner. Meaning that we should provide a person with support. This is equivalent of wanting to be on the same side and to seek for the common truth.
Ken Coleman writes in his book One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today’s Leading Voices: Good questions inform, but great questions transform. When you ask a great question that unlocks life’s big answers, then you change the way you think and believe and when you change the way you think and believe then you change the way you act. 
Questions can be open or closed. Open-ended questions provide an opportunity for raising awareness and for self-reflection. Sometimes an open-ended question on its own can lead to an insight. Closed questions can be answered with yes or no and with I don’t know. They encourage less thought and do not always carry the conversation further.
Questions can also be set into passive or active form. In passive form, the issue we want to raise is in focus. A passive question is perceived as less provocative and threatening because it does not impact any of the deeper levels of our mind; our identity. An example of a passive question is: “How much are we protected by face masks? ” In an active question, the person is in the focus: “How can you believe that the vaccine works when everyone got covid regardless? “
By framing an issue in active form we might encounter greater resistance when asking the question, since it can threaten a person’s identity.
Questions can also be superficial or deep.
Deep questions can transform
With superficial questions, we often don’t receive much valuable information. But as we begin to dig deeper below the surface, we might encounter more meaningful answers.
“How is it going?” is a superficial question. With superficial questions, we don’t get much information. We can use them to start a conversation.
“What can you do to become the best version of yourself?” is a deep question. When we ask deep questions, the answers can also provide a deeper understanding of the other person. We can start to understand each other’s maps better and in the long run enable a change in thinking.
The model of the mind helps us more clearly see which questions target which level and aspect of our mind. Questions about what are aimed at our behaviour. How is aimed at our skills, habits and knowledge. If we ask why, we aim for the mindset, perception, attitudes and values of the person. Questions about who is targeting a person’s identity and self-image. 
When we ask deep questions, we have to consider that the answers may end up outside the person’s comfort zone. That’s why we should be patient and supportive.
Vision of a relationship
What question should I ask and when? That answer depends on what you want to achieve in the relationship. It is important to have a clear picture of what you want the relationship to look like. Your vision of it will be different for different relationships. 
The goal may be to regain friendship. It can also be to create harmony in the family, perhaps both in terms of the dynamics between family members and in terms of acceptance regarding medical choices. But it can also be to create a secure future for all of us.
“If you aim for nothing, you hit nothing” someone wise once said. Once you know what you want to achieve, it will be easier to come up with good questions.
With good questions, we can lead the conversations in a gentle and storytelling way.
Those who have uncritically accepted the official narrative often reflexively exclude information that goes against that narrative. That’s why we primarily don’t want to push a new idea in from the outside, since it might not fit well within other people’s maps. If the information doesn’t fit in, the person will filter it out rather than risk triggering cognitive dissonance.
It’s often a better approach to try to highlight how certain basic values and norms that the person has don’t align well with the manipulated ideas and beliefs they might have unconsciously and uncritically internalized from the media. That way we might still trigger cognitive dissonance, but it will be harder for the person to filter our remarks out, since the conflict will be localized between their values and internalized manipulated ideas and beliefs rather than with us and with what we say that clashes with their worldview.  Once the person recognizes this inherent contradiction, they cannot unsee it. With the contradiction in focus, they might start to question their beliefs.
Personal values and societal beliefs that fit poorly together can make the person reevaluate the importance of their own perspective versus the one that is imparted onto them by the media and the larger society.
When you see that someone is in a dilemma and deep thought regarding an issue, you are witnessing the unfolding of cognitive dissonance. In those moments it’s important to give the person space to think things through and to be supportive.
Bring it up
So how do we bring up topics we want to talk about? Here are a few different examples.
An innocent icebreaker. “How have you been doing during the pandemic?”
We can try to inspire curiosity. “Why do you think natural immunity is being overlooked?”
We can also try to directly highlight the inherent conflict between someone’s morality and their group identity, but then risk triggering dissonance. “Would you still continue to follow recommendations or community guidelines if you knew they caused more harm than good?”
We all respond differently to narratives in the media and are critical of them to various extents.
When we try to reach others, we can choose to talk about ethics, morality, values and responsibilities regarding issues that we can find the most common ground on.
What are our core values then? Some examples of them could be;
we have the right to decide over what is right for our own body,
we must take responsibility for ourselves and our family,
discrimination is wrong;
we strive to and look up to those with civil courage.
When we understand each other’s map better, we can strengthen the foundations of values we have in common. Which is often the most of them. For example, we can talk about how our fundamental values are needed to create the better future we all want.
Ethics, morality and responsibility
All people are morally responsible for their actions. Having moral agency is part of the very definition of being human.
Our moral compass leads us to consider and weigh questions such as who has the right to make decisions about an action that can help someone, but at the same time risks harming someone else. Take, for example, the situation of donating a kidney to someone sick or intervening during an ongoing violent crime. Who decides whether an action should be carried out? Is it the person who needs help, the person who takes the risk, or some outside authority figure?
There are several different ethical philosophies which try to define what is right and wrong in society and sometimes they arrive at different conclusions. Societal norms are not fixed and can shift over time either naturally or by design. This process is described by the Overton window, which documents how what we consider normal and acceptable in society can shift over time due to socio-political and economic factors . One such clear shift is the emerging idea that what is good for the collective should be prioritized over what is good for the individual. It is important to keep in mind that the authorities nowadays act primarily to promote collective interests over the interests of the individual.
In such a society, few, except us ourselves, will be able to take good care of our own interests. Similarly, that requires us to take responsibility for our own children or for a relative that might have gotten sick. If we outsource that care to the authorities, we risk them prioritizing collective interests over the individual’s ones when dealing with our children or a sick relative. If something goes wrong, those working on the behest of authorities can claim that they were just following orders. Ultimately, however, everyone has a choice and is responsible for their actions. With that realization we can also reevaluate those who issue rules and those who execute them in a new moral light.
In practice, many unfortunately fall for the authoritarian pressure even when the nature and content of the state imposition violates their moral beliefs. We can partially counter that imposition by strengthening our own and other’s moral resolve and strength. We can talk about, and show through our own example, how brave it is to stand up for one’s fundamental beliefs and values, even when that is unpopular or risky. With that we showcase civil courage and can inspire others to do the same.
When we realize that we ourselves have a key role and responsibility in making life’s decisions, we become more determined to take decisions which align with our fundamental values and beliefs and with which we can take better care of ourselves and of our wider circle of family and friends.
In order to examine our moral stances together, it is important to investigate the complicated and problematic relationship between the individual and the collective. In conversations where it is initially still difficult to discuss narrative issues, we can choose other, more neutral examples.
Healthcare has limited resources. Should those who do not follow general recommendations risk being denied care? Does this also apply to those who smoke, drink and do not exercise?
It is important to take responsibility and protect others, but no drug is without side effects. What is the severity level of a side effect that is reasonable to accept?
To reach others
We have managed to touch on many different fields of knowledge to help us understand how we can successfully reach others.
This can be a lot of information to take in and you may need to come back to this material more than once. This material also provides plenty of information that you can discuss with others. Feel free to also use and practice the exercises that are in this material.
Here is a brief overview of the steps that are needed to reach others.
Before you set out to reach others, first choose a positive mindset, which will perhaps represent the biggest challenge. Have a vision for what you want to achieve in the relationship.
Then when you reach out towards others, orient yourself in alignment to them and try to get onto the same side. Once there, you can embark on a joint adventure where you can together seek for the common truth.
When we use stories, metaphors and questions, the conversations become captivating and can inspire reflection.
Stories can reach us at a deep subconscious level. That way, the information moves past the conscious resistance.
The metaphor compares two things. We already have an intuitive and partly subconscious understanding of one of the things we are comparing. With the metaphor, we transfer that understanding to another thing.
The model of the mind shows us which levels of our mind certain questions affect. The greatest insight and opportunity for change comes when we touch upon who and why. That is, our identity and mindset. What and how matters less.
We do not want to introduce new ideas from the outside that do not fit the other person’s map. If the information doesn’t fit in, the person will filter it out rather than risk triggering cognitive dissonance.
Many fall for authoritarian coercion, even when the nature and content of the state imposition violates their moral beliefs. We can partially counter that imposition by strengthening our own and others’ moral resolve and strength. We can talk about, and show through our own example, how brave it is to stand up for one’s fundamental beliefs and values, even when that is unpopular or risky. With that we showcase civil courage and can inspire others to do the same.
In order to examine our moral stances together, it is important to investigate the complicated and problematic relationship between the individual and the collective. In conversations where it is initially still difficult to discuss narrative issues, we can choose to discuss other, more neutral examples.
- Reaching People, https://reachingpeople.net/
- Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life, Bruner, 2003
- Plato on storytelling, Tasseel, theStorytellers, https://thestorytellers.com/plato-on-storytelling/
- Judge orders Batavia hospital to treat coronavirus patient with Ivermectin, The Buffalo News, https://buffalonews.com/news/local/judge-orders-batavia-hospital-to-treat-coronavirus-patient-with-ivermectin/article_53c8b32e-996c-11eb-87cf-2bd34f11d3c2.html
- Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of Ivermectin. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/mediCine/2015/Press-release/
- Ivermectin, ‘Wonder drug’ from Japan: the human use perspective, 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3043740/
- Metaphor, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphor/
- One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today’s Leading Voices, Coleman, 2013
- Partygate political scandal, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partygate
- The Overton Window, https://psycho-tests.com/blog/overton-window-what-it-is-and-why-it-is-dangerous