Sharing without scaring

09 Mar

Lately it seems that some of my favorite bloggers are thinking along the same lines, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for years: you might be right (or at least think you are) but you can’t change people through sheer force of will. Over the lifespan we tend to move from absolutist thinking (there’s only one right answer regardless of context) to relativism (there’s no universal truth, rather each point of view has it’s own truth). With the strong moral and ethical values often tied to the treatment and care of animals I think people often get stuck in absolutist thinking; I know I do! The problem is that, even if you’re absolutely right, nobody wants to be bludgeoned with knowledge. Additionally, nobody wants to be told they’re not just doing it wrong but they’re also morally or ethically wrong (“Not only are you saying I’m stupid, you’re also questioning my character!”).

When we “serious” dog people are trying to get others to align with our beliefs (i.e. positive reinforcement training, grain-free food, minimal or no vaccines, etc.) we’re essentially asking the other person to conform with our norms, and this happens in one of two ways. First, normative influence. In this case the person fears social rejection so they conform; this is the approach many of us take when we try to convince others to our way of thinking. Most of the time this leads to public conformity, that is, this person might seem to agree with you but their personal beliefs and thinking hasn’t changed.

The second path to conformity is informational influence and it’s much more likely to lead to private conformity, which occurs when the person changes their own way of thinking to align with yours. Basically people become convinced by available information that your norm is something they want to adopt. This is what we want! Unfortunately this is also what we think we’re doing when we “educate” people.

What’s the solution? I can only speak for myself, but before I adopt a new practice/belief  I want to learn about it, see it, and experience it. That means I’m going to seek out reasonable, unbiased information that describes both the benefits and the drawbacks. I’m also going to seek out the experiences of other to learn about their experiences. Finally, I might try it out for myself to see if I really agree with it before I fully adopt it. All of this requires excellent models, people who are willing to share all aspects of their knowledge and experience without trying to sell me on it.

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Posted by on March 9, 2018 in Other Stuff


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