Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds
So what’s going on here? Why don’t people like to change their minds? Clear explains: “Humans need a reasonably accurate view of the world in order to survive. If your model of reality is wildly different from the actual world, then you struggle to take effective actions each day.
However, truth and accuracy are not the only things that matter to the human mind. Humans also seem to have a deep desire to belong.
In Atomic Habits, I wrote, “Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe—or worse, being cast out—was a death sentence.”
Understanding the truth of a situation is important, but so is remaining part of a tribe. While these two desires often work well together, they occasionally come into conflict.
In many circumstances, social connection is actually more helpful to your daily life than understanding the truth of a particular fact or idea. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker put it this way, “People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true.””
If you believe Clear’s hypothesis – that we dislike changing our mind for fear of being thrown out of our tribe – then it becomes relatively easy to figure out how to persuade one’s ideological adversary to change one’s mind – by becoming his friend: “Convincing someone to change their mind is really the process of convincing them to change their tribe. If they abandon their beliefs, they run the risk of losing social ties. You can’t expect someone to change their mind if you take away their community too. You have to give them somewhere to go. Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.
The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.
The British philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that we simply share meals with those who disagree with us:
“Sitting down at a table with a group of strangers has the incomparable and odd benefit of making it a little more difficult to hate them with impunity. Prejudice and ethnic strife feed off abstraction. However, the proximity required by a meal – something about handing dishes around, unfurling napkins at the same moment, even asking a stranger to pass the salt – disrupts our ability to cling to the belief that the outsiders who wear unusual clothes and speak in distinctive accents deserve to be sent home or assaulted.…”
Perhaps it is not difference, but distance that breeds tribalism and hostility. As proximity increases, so does understanding. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.””