Rather Than Arming Our Differences, We Need To Embrace Them—and Simply Be NICE
Baron Delfont, a British theatre impresario and actor, loved to tell a story about the young man who stops by his office looking for work. Delfont was a well-known interviewer who is known for his fearlessness. He fixes his eyes on the young man for a while before placing his water jug in front of him.
“Young man,” he says, “I hear on the grapevine that you are a persuasion genius. So, I’ve got a little challenge for you. You see this water jug? I want you to sell it to me.”
After pondering about the matter for a while, the young man finally gets up and moves on to other things. Under Delfont’s watchful eye he wanders over to the corner of the room, picks up the waste-paper basket, and carries it over to his desk. To his potential new employer’s utter astonishment, he empties the contents of the waste-paper basket—random pieces of paper, discarded documents—out onto the work surface between them, while removing the water jug and placing it out of Delfont’s reach.
He then picks up the tycoon’s cigar lighter and proceeds to set light to the pile of rubbish in front of them.
“Right then,” he says, water jug in hand as the flames begin to spread.
Great persuaders will push for an open door. The lesson is in HowThey get it open. If we’re looking for a master key, then it’s more likely to be found in the heart than it is in the head. Baron Delfont didn’t buy his water jug back out of charity. Because his office was on fire, he bought it back. Emotional decisions are more difficult to make than rational ones. The less effort that is required to make it happen, the better. NuanceGoes up in smoke
Recent years have seen polarization on the world stage. Trump. Brexit. Islamic State. It is hard to believe that it started. There have been many stories about forgotten farmers in derelict rust belt areas, radical, reactionary rabble-rousing Raqqa scouts, and browbeating Brussels bluffs. It is not clear how to make this right. How the black and brown mindset can be rehabilitated and become more mature, resilient, and community-spirited.
The key lies in emotions. Its sizzling synaptic wildfires can lead to extremist thinking. Recently, a team of researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, examined in more detail the profoundly discomfiting findings that participants in virtual confrontation scenarios such as the ‘first-person shooters task,’ which simulates the kinds of snap judgments that British police officers have to make in the line of duty, are more likely to open fire on unarmed Black people than on unarmed white individuals.
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Particular attention should be paid to WhereThese decisions are made by the team. They also compare the frequency of false positives, which is when targets appear to be posing threats and then discharge their weapons. On a heartbeat or Between them.
These results were interesting to read. Similar to previous results, most false positives were attributed to Black people. But that wasn’t all. In the instances where stimuli were needed, they could be timed so that it would occur. On a heartbeat, false positives rose even more. These were 10% more than the average. This is not a huge number in grand scheme of things. Still, it is statistically significant. The brain’s perception of altered, heightened arousal led to faster, snappier, more extreme and prejudicial decisions.
Is this to say that emotions and nuance are not compatible, or that complexity and determination will always be in contradiction? Not at all. This is true for high-stakes occupations like surgery and elite sport. Life-changing outcomes could depend on micro-expressions. But what it does mean is that if political, racial and religious intolerance are to be given fewer lines in the script, then we need to keep an eye—and, more importantly, a lid—on our emotions.
Instead of ArmingWe need to respect each other’s differences embrace them.
It’s easier said than done. No. All we need to do is…be NICE. NICE stands for nuance, integrate, communicate and empathize—and we need to get it in the right order. This means that we need to 1) accept other viewpoints; 2) 2) Talk to others who are affected by them Why? They have them. 4) Take onboard the reasons they give.
A study done in the U.S. a few years back showed that conservatives have more precise stereotypes about liberals than they do about conservatives. Factoring in the results of another U.S. survey, one possible reason for this is that liberals, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, appear more likely than conservatives to avoid people who don’t share their views, blocking or unfriending them on social media. Conservatives seem to be a bit more neurotic than liberals.
‘Us’ and ‘them’
Let’s look at the flip side. Let’s look at the flip side. It was 50 years ago that Henri Tajfel, a psychologist and social scientist, asked a question: “How can you make a group of people who normally get along well suddenly hate each other?”
He discovered the simple answer. Divide them up into two arbitrary groups (a red group versus the blue group, for example), separate them, and then afford each group the opportunity to “gel” away from the other. You will soon notice a pattern in interpersonal relationships that encourages individuals to be friendly towards their peers and antagonistic towards the members of other groups. So deeply hardwired is our need for affiliation that even these so-called “minimal groups” have the power to make us loyal.
These days, as if we need any reminding, under an algorithmic avalanche of hashtags, handles and keywords, minimal groups have a habit of springing up all over the place—and our highly responsive group loyalty buttons are being pressed constantly. It’s not something new. Research has revealed that chimpanzees exhibit contagious, or yawning-like behavior in groups of in-group and out-group members. When we were in our distant forest youth, evolution recognized the importance of the in-group bias.
What can we do to change this? Do we have to continue to feel like a member of the gang, or are we going to remain a slave to our evolutionary desire to belong? NICE can be nice, but is it effective in overcoming the evil cognitive gatekeepers to our evolutionary need to belong. Both yes and no. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ will always be part of the band. We can, however, unplug them secretly from the amp by being NICE.
An interesting tale of a British Prime minister illustrates the art and skill of secretive unplugging. It’s a unique and important story. Winston Churchill saw a guest at a gala dinner in Downing Street in 1950s and he was about to steal a valuable silver salt cellar.
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Churchill had two thoughts. Churchill wanted to prevent a scene on the one hand. He was also loath to allow the miser get away.
How was this to be done? The answer wasn’t so much ‘nudge’ as an influence gun to the head. He picked up the matching silver pepper pot, popped it inside the pocket of his Savile Row dinner jacket, approached the gentleman in question, took it out, set it down on the table in front of them, and whispered conspiratorially in his ear: “I think they’ve seen us. We’d better put them back.”
Boom! Boom! Honor kept. Within a matter of seconds.
This masterclass is a must-read for anyone who wants to reduce polarization. It contains profound psychological wisdom. Through his natural persuasion genius, Churchill—like an Einstein or a Newton grappling with the mysteries of the universe on some rarefied mathematical plain —’saw’ the solution in front of him, shimmering in the influence firmament. It was easy for him to get the job done.
It is crucial to find common ground. Churchill knew instinctively that a platform of unity was more likely to be agreed upon. Persuasiveness is more effective than crossing a gap of discord. So, by pretending to steal the pepper pot he immediately manufactured some Us and Them ‘to go,’ which enabled him, forthwith, to Address a ‘fellow thief’ —‘one of his own’—as opposed to openly Face to face a ‘villain’.
This means that he was challenged by the in-group and not from an enemy position.
We can all learn this conflict resolution formula. This is easy to understand. Here’s how: Next time you encounter someone with opposing views—anti-vaxx, for example—don’t denounce them as evil, or stupid, or nuts. Try to do the opposite. Churchill was right. Start by identifying the basic principles of human shared sensibility and a small piece of common ideology ground. Factorize ‘them’ into ‘us’ and the radical remnants of the scary psychological algebra start falling into place. Republicans and Democrats are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they share the same foundational banner: life, liberty, and the pursuit and pursuit of happiness. While Brexiteers wanted out and the Remainers preferred to stay, both sides had the best interests of the United Kingdom in mind. Both vaccine advocates and anti-vaxxers. One is compliant with COVID, while the other denies vaccinations. However, neither has the death desire nor the need to kill another.
The vaccine debate is a particularly contentious issue at the moment—and an especially timely example of the power of being NICE. It is tempting to dismiss COVID vaccine dissidents in a negative light, but research from the lunatic fringe shows that when deeply held beliefs and values are challenged in a confrontational manner we may end up being even more stubborn. This is called the “The…” backfire effect and describes how under conditions of threat, judgment or perceived coercion we have a tendency to double down on our convictions – to FightingInstead of corners Turn them. Far better, then, to embrace anti-vaxxers’ uncertainty over the jab; to listen, empathize and focus on the benefits of getting it, and to direct them to sources of additional information that they can process and digest without feeling pressured to do so. It is far better to be kind.
Roberto is a Panamanian boxer Durán He was hated by Puerto Rico over many years. This was mainly due to his constant beating of Puerto Rican fighters. One day, back in 1989, Durán heard that one of his great rivals, Esteban de Jesús, had only weeks to live after contracting AIDS. Durán flew to San Juan, made his way to de Jesús’ home, lifted him tenderly out of his bed, and embraced him.
Fast news spread about the incident. People were afraid because they knew very little about AIDS.
The rest is history. Durán became a hero in Puerto Rico.
Because Durán was NICE to de Jesús, Puerto Rico was NICE to him.