(From the Persuasion PowerPoint section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)
“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
Most of us aren’t as wise as George Bernard Shaw’s tailor.
We see people we haven’t seen for years, and we tell them, “You haven’t changed a bit!”
Or, “You’re the same as you always were.”
Are they really the same?
Or are we forgetting to take their measure anew?
Social psychology has a name for this: the High School Reunion Phenomenon.
At our 10th year reunion, or 20th year reunion, we see people we haven’t seen since high school.
We talk about old times. We relive glory days. We reminisce.
Then we go home and say, “I’ve changed a lot, but they’re the same as they ever were.”
When we go to high school reunions, we’re scanning for similarities. Our memories are primed to find people who look just like, sound just like, and act just like the kids we went to high school with. Only older. And wrinklier.
We’re looking for similarities. So that’s what we find.
We know that we’ve changed.
Or have we?
If we rode home with some of the people that we’d just seen for the first time in ten or twenty years, we’d hear them saying, “Boy, they haven’t changed a bit… but I have.”
We didn’t take their measure anew. And they didn’t take ours.
George Bernard Shaw’s tailor was right. People do change. And unless we look for change, we’ll miss it.
This is crucial to persuasion.
People change their values. People change themselves. And events change people.
Changed values and changed lives mean new opportunities for communicating libertarianism.
Changed values and changed lives mean new wants and needs. New situations.
New concerns and interests. New conversational openings.
If we assume that the person we were talking with “hasn’t changed a bit,” we might miss out on the fact that they just got audited by the IRS. Do you think that might make them more receptive to libertarian tax cut and tax repeal proposals?
If we forget to take the person’s measure anew, we might never know that one of their close friends or family members has been sentenced to prison for a marijuana offense. They might be open to the idea of ending the War on Drugs.
If we overlook the fact that people are always changing, we might not hear about a friend being stalked or threatened. We might never know that they are ripe for a discussion of gun ownership and the right to protect themselves and their families.
If we neglect to look for how the person has changed, we might not learn that they are expecting a baby… and might be eager to hear about homeschooling. Or separating school and state.
What can George Bernard Shaw’s tailor teach us?
1. Actively look for what’s different when you meet people again. Actively ask what’s different.
2. Seek and scan for changes in their lives. Explore the changes. Ask them to talk about the changes since you last got together.
3. What’s new in their lives? New activities. New people. New events. New feelings and values. Invite people to talk about the novel and new.
4. Comment on and, where appropriate, compliment them for positive changes. Drop them notes mentioning how healthy and good they look since they’ve lost the weight. Or since they got their promotion. Send them notes and emails giving them warm feedback on the changes.
Change is opportunity. A new chance to build libertarian bridges to other people’s lives.
And we might miss this opportunity.
Unless we emulate George Bernard Shaw’s tailor.
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Michael Cloud’s latest book Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion is available exclusively from the Advocates, along with his acclaimed earlier book Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion.
In 2000, Michael was honored with the Thomas Paine Award as the Most Persuasive Libertarian Communicator in America.