On the Potential to Change

This started out as a conversation on Twitter. Since I have longer thoughts, I’m expanding on them here.

There was an interesting profile in the Washington Post this morning called “Love Thy Neighbor?” about a Minnesota doctor named Ayaz Virji. Dr. Virji began to feel uncomfortable in his small town after the election, and so he made several attempts to talk to his neighbors after his Muslim faith in order to (perhaps) change their minds. I’m not doing the piece justice; the entire thing is worth reading.

For my purposes here, it’s the last bit that interests me the most. Around the election, there were a host of articles about voters experiencing economic anxiety that led them to support the candidacy of the current president. For example, sociologist Arlie Hochschild wrote one for Mother Jones detailing the five years she spent interviewing people in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in order to understand their lives and world views.

But a notable difference between today’s Post article and Hochschild’s (and the other authors I’d put in this category) is that the latter never attempted to change her subjects’ minds. To be clear, I don’t mean that as a criticism; I’m describing a difference.

It might be, however, that it’s impossible to change minds as Virji attempts to do because people aren’t persuaded by facts. In fact, research suggests that confronting people with facts that are counter to their worldview can lead them to become defensive, to dig in, and to become, in other words, less likely to change.

I could make a bunch of political points about this, which I’m purposefully avoiding, but the pieces also raise writing questions, including: do people, and by extension characters, change? if so, what motivates them to change? how can I write change realistically?

Continue reading “On the Potential to Change”