5.5. Same Goals, Different Strategies

How strongly you believe what you believe and the strategy you use to engage with others who don’t believe as you do are two very different things.

One of the most disturbing things about our politics today is how people who take a less aggressive, more open-minded and conciliatory approach to trying to resolve our differences have been demonized.

It’s as if it isn’t possible anymore to try to cooperate or find middle ground, without selling out or surrendering your values.

It’s as if you have to take an uncompromising hard line on everything…or else you aren’t a “true” believer.

It’s as if the tactic you use to engage with others reveals something about how fervently you believe what you do.

I think all that is ridiculous.

How strongly you believe what you believe and the strategy you use to engage with others who don’t believe as you do are two very different things.

By insisting that the only valid way to engage is by refusing to budge an inch, we box ourselves in. We limit our possibilities.

Maybe the best way to illustrate this is the through the common tactic of “good cop, bad cop.”

The two police officers are on the same side. They want to get the person they’re interrogating to cooperate.

Neither of them wants this outcome any more or less than the other. But they adopt two very different approaches, because they know there are pros and cons to both styles.

They know that some people respond to forcefulness, while others respond to a less aggressive, more empathetic approach.

They know that by doing it this way, they increase their chances of obtaining cooperation.

I’m not saying we should engage with people who don’t believe as we do the same way a police officer treats a suspected criminal.

But can’t you see how counterproductive it would be, if the bad cop insisted that the good cop had to act like a bad cop too?

Can’t you see how silly it would be for the bad cop to accuse the good cop of appeasing or selling out or surrendering, just because the good cop was using a different strategy?

Can’t you see how two people, with the same desires and goals, can adopt two different strategies for obtaining their goals, and still be working together?

I’m very much committed to social justice. But my strategy is to engage with people those who don’t believe as I do—respectfully, empathetically, with an open mind, in good faith.

I do this, in part, because I think there are a lot of well-intentioned people out there who just aren’t on the same page about a lot of stuff.

I do it, in part, because I don’t think I know everything, and I might learn something from engaging with an open mind.

But one of the biggest reasons I choose to do it this way is because I think we’re overusing the hardline tactic, and we need more folks to build bridges and reach across the aisle.

If you’re a hardliner, and you feel like that’s what you’ve got to do, you should do it.

But can’t you see people who choose a different strategy, even though they share your beliefs, as allies rather than traitors?

Can’t you see them as partners, rather than enemies?

Can’t you see how they can be helpful to your cause too?


This is the 81st in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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