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The Missing Ingredient in Your Fact-Based Arguments for Liberty

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 12 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Facts are essential to making the case for liberty. But you can make dry facts come alive to your listeners — by using the mind-changing power of stories.

Stories — both true and fictional — have a special power. The greatest teachers have Memorable Storiesalways used stories: think of the parables of Jesus, the fables of Aesop, the witty tales of the Taoist Chuang-Tzu. Nearly every culture uses stories both to entertain and to convey vital lessons.

Now we have scientific evidence that stories are extraordinarily effective. Bestselling author Carmine Gallo, in his book Talk Like TED, cites Princeton University research which used MRIs to study how the brains of audience members reacted to stories. The studies showed that stories actually activate all areas of the brain.

Says Gallo: “Brain scans reveal that stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience and making it much more likely that the audience will agree with the speaker’s point of view.”

Obviously, if we want to successfully persuade others, we should be telling lots of stories.

When you can combine a story with your facts and figures, your audience listens. They identify. They are moved. They feel, as well as calculate. Further, while it’s hard to remember facts and figures, people remember stories — and eagerly share them.

Let’s take as an example the issue of medical marijuana. There are many logical, fact-based arguments that can — and should — be used in persuading others on this issue. But consider this story, a version of which was published in the Pittsburgh Press in the early 1990s, before liberty activists begin to have success in getting states to re-legalize marijuana for medical purposes:

James Burton, a former Kentuckian, is living literally in exile in the Netherlands. Burton, a Vietnam War vet and master electrical technician, suffers from a rare form of hereditary glaucoma. All males on his mother’s side of his family had the disease. Several of them are blind.

Burton found that marijuana could hold back, and perhaps halt, the glaucoma. So he began growing marijuana for his own use and smoking it.

Kentucky State Police raided his 90-acre farm and found 138 marijuana plants and two pounds of raw marijuana. At his 1988 trial, North Carolina ophthalmologist Dr. John Merrit — at that time the only physician in America allowed by the government to test marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma — testified that marijuana was “the only medication” that could keep Burton from going blind.

Nevertheless, Burton was found guilty of simple possession for personal use and was sentenced to one year in a federal maximum security prison, with no parole. The government also seized his house and his farm, valued at around $70,000. Under forfeiture laws, there was no defense he could raise against the seizure of his farm. No witnesses on behalf of the defense, not even a statement from the Burtons, were allowed at the hearing.

After release, Burton and his wife moved to the Netherlands, where he could legally purchase marijuana to stave off his blindness. Instead of a sprawling farm, they now live in a tiny apartment.

They say they would love to return to America — but not at the cost of Burton going blind.

See how that puts a human face on the medical marijuana issue?

There are equally moving, equally appalling stories about taxation, utility monopolies, First Amendment issues, gun rights, licensing laws, war… virtually any issue. Anywhere the government has committed aggression against individuals, there is a story to be told.

A great place to find such stories is the website of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian legal defense organization. IJ has done a wonderful job of collecting stories of heroic individuals fighting to defend their lives and property against oppressive government.

Whenever you come across heart-rending, powerful stories of victims of government, or people overcoming oppression, collect them for future use.

Most people decide what they believe not just on bare facts but also on feelings and emotions. Give them stories to hang your facts on, memorable stories that make your facts come alive, and you will be far more effective in your political persuasion.

Before You Click “Share”

in Liberator Online Archives by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 6 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Oops! Was my face red!

Last week I saw a fascinating article on Facebook. It was entitled “Amazing things you didn’t know your cell phone could do.”

Wow! I had no idea cell phones could do all that. I immediately shared it with my Facebook friends.Don't Believe Everything You Read On the Internet - Abraham Lincoln

Bad move. I was quickly informed that the article was almost totally bogus. (I’m sorry to inform you that you can’t use your cell phone to unlock your car — unless, as a friend pointed out, you throw it through the window.)

Normally I check such things out before forwarding them. But this time my enthusiasm got the best of me — such amazing and useful information! — and I made the classic Internet mistake of forwarding info I hadn’t checked out. Ouch!

In this particular case, the consequences weren’t dire. I wasted a bit of my friends’ time and made myself look silly.

But sharing false political information can have much more serious consequences. Especially for libertarians.

When we send something around that turns out to be false, people may wonder: “Are libertarians just stupid — or are they trying to deceive me?”

They may think, “This libertarian has sent me something I know isn’t true. So I can’t trust anything he or other libertarians say.”

Those aren’t reactions we want from our social media outreach.

This is a serious problem. The web is clogged with fascinating facts, mesmerizing memes, compelling quotes and startling stories — that are not true.

So before you hit that “Share” button on Facebook or the “Forward” button in your email, take a moment confirm the validity of the material.

Note, this doesn’t mean you have to verify everything you share. Jokes, fables, cartoons, cat videos… fire away.

But before sending a quote or a fact, take a moment and fact-check it.

It’s easy. Type it wholly or in part into Google. See if it can be verified at a reliable source. Something like “funnytruequotes.com” (I just made that up) isn’t sufficient. A legitimate online thesaurus, book, scholarly site, or reputable newspaper or magazine source is needed.

You can also use Google Books to instantly search millions of books to see if the quote or fact shows up in a reputable book.

Does this sound like too much trouble? Do you just “know” your quote is accurate, because it just “sounds right”? I invite you to try it on a few anyway. You will be shocked how many false quotes are attributed to the Founders, to Ron Paul, to various presidents, and the like.

The more amazing the fact or quote, the more it confirms your prejudices… the more likely it needs to be vetted. “Eighty percent of U.S. tax dollars goes to foreign aid” might sound plausible to some people, but check it out and you might be surprised. If you can’t verify it at a legitimate source (newspaper, magazine, think tank, book, etc.) don’t send it out.

If a story sounds too good to be true, that’s a warning sign. Check out snopes.com or a similar site to see if it’s one of the thousands of phony tales mugging truth-seekers on the web. (I know, Snopes.com has its own biases, but it’s a great place to start.)

Once you’ve pushed the “Share” button, it’s hard to take it back. Some people will never see your retraction, and many of your friends will have already forwarded it to dozens or hundreds of others. In one irreversible moment, you’ve helped contribute to the ignorance of the human race. Not good.

As ambassadors for libertarian ideas, we need to make sure we always display integrity. As seekers of the truth, we must always be truthful in the information we share with others in making our case for liberty.

As Liberator Online columnist Michael Cloud is fond of saying, “The facts are friendly to freedom.”

We’ve got the truth on our side. Falsehoods and bad information only hurts our cause.