Changing Minds – or Not

I want to start with this article from the New York Times.   Entitled Breaking Up the Echo, it focuses on some psychological research about what makes people change their minds ~ and what doesn’t.  We’ve learned that:

When people get information that supports what they initially thought, they give it considerable weight. When they get information that undermines their initial beliefs, they tend to dismiss it.

It seems we don’t even want to believe facts when they don’t support our beliefs.

I often think about this when I’m at the clinic, listening to the protesters trying to get people to change their minds.   It seems unlikely that the protesters are going to have much luck with clients, and even less likely to be able to persuade escorts that we’re wrong.

I thought about it again today.  One of the protesters, a young man I’ll call Ernest {I have no idea what his real name is} approached a small truck and began preaching at the young woman visible through the passenger window.

The man in the drivers seat jumps out of the truck.  Ernest walks toward the front of the truck, approaching him.

The man puts up his hands in a “stop” gesture and yells, “Leave us alone.   Don’t even start with me.  This is my daughter’s life we’re talking about.  Get away from us.”

Ernest, undeterred, continues his typical routine.

The man becomes more angry, and yells some more for Ernest to go away.

Ernest continues preaching.

The man threatenes to beat him up if he doesn’t go away.

C, the male escort with me, trys to persuade Ernest to back off.

Ernest says proudly, “I would give my life to save the babies.”

The father yells, Ernest lectures, C tells Ernest to stop, and I tell C, “Leave him alone, if he wants to be a martyr, let him be.”  It must have been a lovely picture.  The young woman slouches down in her seat, watching it all unfold.

Finally, Ernest backs up some, the father gets back in the truck, and things calm down.  Or maybe the father gets in the car and Ernest backs off, who knows.  In any case, there’s a bit of calm.

The doors still aren’t open, so we’re all waiting, trying not to freeze in the 28 degree weather, which is not too bad except for this bitter wind.  I’m wearing foot warmers, which help a lot.  I could have used a scarf for my face.

Nurse Betty, who Servalbear wrote about on Saturday, arrives.  She and Ernest and another protester chat for a minute.  Then NB approaches the car on the driver’s side, going through her usual routine, I suppose.

Suddenly, the young woman bursts out of the passenger side and races around the back of the truck to confront NB.   Undeterred by the furious client yelling at her to step away from the car,  NB keeps talking.

At that moment, we get the call from the front door ~ the doors are open.

So i say, “The doors are open, we can go now,” and about the third time I say it, the client hears me and turns.  She’s still angry and crying, but we start walking.

Ernest is right behind us, right beside us.   He says something like, “You’re crying because you don’t want to do this.  You don’t have to do this ~ ” and she turns on him.  She charges toward him, he backs up until he’s pressed against the building.

She kicks him.

He keeps talking.

She begins hitting him, flailing away, smacking at his torso with both hands, yelling, “Leave me alone, you f**ker, leave me alone.”  Crying.

And I’m saying, “The doors are open, we can go, let’s walk?  It’s not worth this, it’s not worth it.”

Let me be clear.  I do not believe anyone deserves to be hit.  No one “is asking for it.”  Not Ernest, not anyone.  If you leave me a comment suggesting this was the right thing for the client to do, I’ll disagree.  It wasn’t right.

But it was understandable.

In a few moments, she breaks away, and we walk.  I’m talking, “He doesn’t know you, he doesn’t know anything about you, you don’t even have to listen to him.”  He follows, but not too close.  We make it up the sidewalk, she and her Dad, two escorts, and a couple of protesters.

As I reflect back on the morning, I just feel sad.  Ernest says he’d “die to save the babies.”  That’s nice, but if he did die this morning ~ if the father had killed him ~ no babies would have been saved.   It would have been pointless.

And you don’t change people’s minds by lecturing them on the sidewalk.  The article in The NY Times comes to this conclusion:

People tend to dismiss information that would falsify their convictions. But they may reconsider if the information comes from a source they cannot dismiss. People are most likely to find a source credible if they closely identify with it or begin in essential agreement with it. In such cases, their reaction is not, “how predictable and uninformative that someone like that would think something so evil and foolish,” but instead, “if someone like that disagrees with me, maybe I had better rethink.”

This is NOT what’s happening on the sidewalk.  So the whole “sidewalk counseling” thing is pointless.  I know, they don’t think it is.  They think they’re “saving babies.”  Making a difference.  That just makes me sad.

But the research in the article works both ways – nothing I say or do will persuade them either.  So we stand, on opposite sides of the sidewalk, at an impasse.

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About Fausta

Trauma sensitive Consultant and Coach for Compassionate professionals who experience second hand trauma and are at risk of burnout so they can keep doing the work that matters to them and to the world.

6 thoughts on “Changing Minds – or Not

  1. I find the study kind of humorous. They essentially “discovered” that people will believe what they want to believe. XD

    I’m pretty sure Ernest was a bully when he was in school. One of those types who would tease other kids relentlessly just to see what their breaking point was just because he thinks it’s funny watching someone lose their cool.

    I always wondered what happened to those old school bullies. Now I know. They become some dumb schmoe on the sidewalk in 28 degree weather harassing girls going to the doctor.

    • Hi, Longtail,

      Your comment made me smile. Of course you’re right, that is what the article found and it is pretty common sense.

      As for Ernest ~ sigh ~ they are all bullies in one way or another.


  2. I have to disagree with the concept of the article especially in the case with protestor Ernest, to me he is like a rapist he will not take no for answer and when some body decides to stand their ground they will ask how some thing like that could have happened. It puzzle me how any one can feel it’s OK to invade someone elses space.

    • Hey, Ampelio,

      I know what you’re saying about what they do being an example of rape culture, because for sure many of them won’t take “no” for an answer.

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