Undoing nonsense

Someone you care about believes something that you know is nonsense, and you can see it’s harming them, or other people, and maybe even harming you. Because you care, you wish there was a way to help them out of it.

Consider this:

You Cannot Reason People Out of Something They Were Not Reasoned Into

Jonathan Swift

Great quote. But on closer inspection it could just leave us feeling rather big and clever, like we have the moral high ground, and it kind of leaves us to think that there’s nothing we can do.

Now, if it’s not harming anyone, there’s no problem. But we just agreed that you’re thinking of something that you think is causing some harm to either them or others.

So how might we help them make an adjustment?

You may not be able to reason them back out of something they were not reasoned into. But there’s no reason why you can’t try to steer their mind back to their past, before they believed this thing. And then ask them to walk you SLOWLY through their reasoning, one rung of the ladder at a time, to arrive at the conclusion.

That avoids having to reason them out, and instead challenges them to reason their way in.

Which if they’re doing out loud, step by step, is really hard to do without sounding like a total plonker.

One difficulty though, is what if their belief is ‘right’ or at least helping their life? And you’re the one who made the fallacious leap?

Well, if you’re brave, you can do this process to yourself. Walk up those rungs slowly and carefully. Or you can do it with them, if you’re both willing.

(BTW at no point did I say this is easy.)

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