#12 — The Middle Way Beats the Middle Finger
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#12 — The Middle Way Beats the Middle Finger

One good thing that has emerged from all the shouting and demonizing on all sides these days is the budding broader awareness that outrage  — OUTRAGE!!! — is an effective and cheap marketing tool. It trolls through the mass market offending many, who then spread the word in SHOCKED disbelief — online or in-person — while inspiring others to share with a snide “told you so!” The resulting intractable arguments accomplish one thing: publicity.

It’s an old, if cynical, saw of the communications profession: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. As odious as a trollish mastermind can imaginably be, the message will reach one (if not millions) of the suckers born every minute, and they will buy it.

First, it’s important to be aware of the technique so you don’t fall for it. But then what?

There are exceptions to every rule, but as a general rule, the best way to change the mind of someone shouting at you is to stop shouting back. Instead, try swallowing your own anger for a moment and simply ask, “What do you mean?” Explore their point of view with them. When they feel their point is understood, it creates an opening for you to say, “Here’s how (whatever it is) appears to me.”  Some kernel of mutual understanding establishes common ground for modification — on both sides.

While that might sound pollyannish, it is, in fact, pragmatic. In any endeavor, there are three audiences: people who will always agree, people who will always disagree, and the middle that can be reached — if you reach out and are willing to listen and understand them first. Be kind to those who always support you. Ignore those who don’t. Then focus on the middle.

Shouting just entrenches people in their positions. To create space for movement, quietly inquire: “What do you mean?” It’s a key that can open doors.

Sure, it’s idealistic. But — aside from those who profit from the fight — aren’t the rest of us basically talking about ideals?