How not to be persuasive

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 29, 2014

When I’m not busy reading and writing about Catholic affairs, I spend some of free time on local civic affairs. Recently a heated controversy has broken out in the town where we live, and I have played a small role in trying to resolve it. I’ll spare you the details, which are complicated and not terribly edifying, and not at all germane to the point I want to make here.

This past weekend, I received two messages from people who disagree with the position that I (and, I think, most of the people in town) have taken. It is the style of those messages, not the content, that you might find interesting.

Message #1 went something like this:

You are an idiot. Also you’re dishonest. No sane or honest person could take the position you have taken, because [argument X]. But I know you won’t change your stand—even though you know you’re wrong—because you’re hopelessly corrupt.

Message #2 was along these lines:

I admire the work you’ve done for the town, and I know that you want what you think is best. Since I usually agree with you, I was surprised to find that we disagree on this issue. Have you thought about [argument X]? Please consider this carefully; I’d like to have you on our side.

These two messages made the same essential point: argument X. But I found one message far more persuasive than the other. Can you guess which one? Right.

Now what does this have to do with Catholic affairs?

Some Catholics are convinced the Pope Francis favors the “Kasper proposal” and will make a determined effort to promote it during the coming year and at the 2015 meeting of the Synod. If that is the case—and I hope it is not, but I cannot exclude the possibility—then I would like to persuade him to change his mind. Meanwhile, since there are many other Catholics who have already embraced the Kasper proposal, I would like to change their minds as well. To do so, I am quite certain, arguments structured like Message #2 will be far more effective than those resembling Message #1.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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