We don’t often think about how to create opportunities for people to back down, while also saving face.
It’s easy to blame closed-minded, stubborn, diehard believers of flawed ideologies for many of our ideological disputes.
It’s easy to blame all the leaders for encouraging their followers to be uncompromising, to try to use verbal or even physical force to convert more people over to their side—or to shame and humiliate those who won’t convert.
It’s easy to blame all the hustlers, the manipulators, the exploiters, the sowers of discord, and all the people who take the easy way out of judgment and hatred, instead of doing the hard work of meeting people where they’re at, and reconciling our differences.
But let’s not get too carried away with that.
These aren’t necessarily cynical, mean-spirited people at heart.
Often these are well-intentioned people who feel compelled to embrace combat rather than reconciliation. Who don’t feel like they have any face-saving way of taking it down a notch.
The leaders of these ideologies—the ones who try to turn all their followers into noble crusaders for their idea of “the truth”—have often been working for decades to get to the top of their field.
They’ve had to serve their time, climb their organizational ladders, and do a lot of thankless work along the way.
By the time they get to the top, they’ve been waiting their whole adult lives for this opportunity.
Except they discover that being at the top isn’t nearly as glamorous as it seems.
Do one thing, and a bunch of people are critical. Do the opposite, and a bunch of other people are critical.
Often, these people are being compared to heroic past leaders, and past golden ages that may or may not have existed.
Nobody wants to get to the top and have their life’s work ripped apart by criticism, or be the one remembered for losing important ideological battles on their watch.
So is it any wonder that they behave the way they do—always trying to avoid criticism, always trying to increase their own prestige, always fighting for the supremacy of their ideology, even to the point of defying common sense compromises?
For the diehard followers, too, being a noble crusader for their ideology has been their life’s work as well.
It’s central to their identity, their sense of self-worth, and their sense of belonging.
We can’t just make people stop believing what they do, like flipping a light switch.
It’s a genuinely stressful psychological event to have a crisis of faith in what you’ve been led to believe for years and years. To come to grips with the realization that much of the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve invested in these struggles may have been in vain.
When we’re trying to resolve ideological disputes, we don’t often think about how to create opportunities for people to back down, while also saving face.
But we really should. Because the lack of these options is what keeps many of these struggles ongoing.
And you may say, “Well, too bad. They’re wrong. They should suck it up and admit it.”
To which I say: well, would you rather feel superior, or be successful?
Because you won’t be successful, as long as seeing reason is the same as humiliation to them.
Making it as emotionally easy as possible for them to stop fighting is just a smart strategy—and a small price to pay for the greater good you’re trying to achieve.
This is the 121st 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.