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You cannot reason until you empathize

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The world is full of unreasonable people: people who won’t wear masks, people who deny climate change, people who refuse to see racism.

For many of us, especially men, “reason” is the answer to unreasonable people. We talk to them calmly and dispassionately. We show them our data. We lay out our logic.

And it basically never works. 

It never works because everyone’s understanding of the world already feels reasonable to them. We believe what we want to believe and find our reasoning later. 

If we want to truly change minds, our calls for “reason” cannot be about imposing our idea of what is reasonable onto others. This just breeds defensiveness and resentment. It does not work. If I want to change minds, I must expand my own view of what is “reasonable.” I must see, hold, and honor the reason in the “unreasonable.”

This is empathy. When I empathize, I eliminate others’ need to defend the unreasonable. When I empathize, I create the conditions under which reason is possible.

Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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