It is one thing to know the facts. It is another to believe them or to buy into them. While I don’t see this anymore, I remember years ago driving by hospitals and health clinics, and I would a group of people gathered outside for a smoke break. I often wondered about that. Out of all the people in the world who are most likely to know about the adverse impact of smoking on one’s health, I would think that health care workers would be at the top of the list. Yet, there they were gathering outside for a smoke break. How could this be?
One obvious answer seems to be that knowledge is not enough to change one’s behavior or even change one’s mind on a matter. There is more to changing thought and action than pure knowledge. In fact, this is a consistent flaw in many educational offerings and assumptions. People just assume that giving people the facts will change their thoughts or behavior, but we know that isn’t true. If it were, we could much more easily address any number of social challenges in the world by simply giving people all the most relevant facts on the matter. Learning doesn’t work that way.
While there are many excellent books, models, and theories about the art and science of changing minds, I continue to appreciate the coherent collection of seven levers for mind changing posed by Howard Gardner in his 2006 book, Changing Minds. Based upon his research, Gardner argues for the value of seven elements (or what he calls levers) for mind change. Used together, they allow one to build a robust and compelling case that is more likely to help us change a mind. They include reason, researcher, resonance, representational redescriptions, resources and rewards, real word events, and resistances. I’ll examine each of them below, but what fascinates me is the potential of helping students learn to use these in order to change their own minds. Of course, this can also be a tool for educators or others who aspire to create a compelling case or a craft a collection of experiences that are likely to influence in a positive way.
A rational argument is certainly not without value today. Reason has an important role. While it might not be enough to change our own minds or those of others, it still has power. We can use good old logic. We can use logical analogies to help clarify our point. We can also make our logic more understandable by designing taxonomies or classifications that help to build our case.
Of course, this and every other lever can be misused. We can just as well use taxonomies and analogies to hide faulty logic or leave out important facts. Yet, on the positive side, when it comes to helping to change my own mind on something, I still find it important to analyze it from a logical standpoint. Is it logical? Does it hold up to clear and simple reason? Once I an confident that the answer to such questions is “yes”, then I can start to find or craft analogies and ways of classifying knowledge that helps me and others to more clearly or easily see the evident logic.
Then there is drawing from relevant research to bolster one’s case. This might be drawing from quantitative studies that support the proposed change of mind. It might also mean drawing from qualitative cases, providing evidence from this research that a change of mind is indeed warranted.
You can have the most carefully researched argument in the world combined with a list of logical reasons and still find yourself or others unmoved. That is because we have a persistent need to resonate with the argument. If we see it as too much of an outsider or something with which we are unable to relate, then we are far less likely to be swayed. As such, building a case for ourselves or others calls for us to take care to discover how we can communicate the message in a way that truly resonates.
Yet, when we are engaged in the changing of our minds or those of others, we often make the mistake of ignoring what is already in a mind. We are not blank slates. We have existing beliefs, values, and mental models associated with just about anything. That is why redescription becomes so important. This is the process of helping us dismantle an existing mental model and replacing it with the new one. This might mean debunking existing models, but it might also just mean helping redefine what we are already thinking. We might even use the same or a similar vocabulary, but we can help to create a new set of definitions and ways of thinking about those words.
Resources and Rewards
Sometimes we can have a great and compelling idea, but there are not existing resources that allow one to act upon the new ideas. As such, even if our minds are changed temporarily, the change is less likely to stick. In the absence of the necessary resources to embrace and embody the new change, it will quickly fade. This is where resources and rewards become an important part of the process. It might not just be making a compelling case. It might also entail the conditions that we set up for ourselves or others.
Real World Events
Either we can connect the new idea with a real world event, or these events will just occur, resulting even in unexpected or unplanned changes of mind. Major world events like wars and natural disasters might fit in this category, not to mention personal tragedies and challenges. Of course, this is not an argument to manipulate using events, but there is the reality that world and life events play a significant role in our openness to a change of mind. I find this to be true in my own mind. There are certain events that have happened in my life, creating windows of opportunity for me to consider an important change. The same thing is true for others, and we can help people learn to take advantage of this to embrace desired personal changes.
There there are any number of other forms of resistance to change. These are often distinct or unique to an individual or group. Part of changing one’s mind is discovering these different forms of resistance and working through them. Again, I find this to be a valuable personal exercise. For example, I loved writing for decades but it is only in the last decade that I became serious about writing. What changed? I had to work through some of the personal challenges, things that held me back, many of which I didn’t even recognize. The reality is that I was afraid of failure. I had false notions of what it took or meant to be a writer. There was a lack of confidence and fear of rejection. Until I worked through some of these forms of resistence, writing didn’t take off for me. Yet, when I did tackle these issues (not entirely but aggressively), writing became a daily part of my life, something that I pursue with near abandon and an immense amount of joy and gratitude.
Again, one could read this list and the descriptions, and use this as a tool for manipulation. Yet, consider it differently. What if we were to take these ideas and learned to use them to take greater control of our own minds. What if we helped learners discover how to use these levers to change their mind and habits in ways that help them achieve personal goals? That is the promise and possibility that interests me.