I was in an accident almost three years ago in which I seriously injured my foot. It wasn't even an epic situation like "I saved a baby from a burning building" or "Someone stomped on me as I took the shot, but I made the winning basket anyway."
All I did was step off a curb unexpectedly.
In a spot where the pavement was lower than usual.
To make a long story short, I sustained a lovely little injury known as a Lisfranc injury. My foot stubbornly refused to completely heal on its own, so about sixteen months later, I had surgery to fuse the problematic joints. When I woke up, I was in a cast up to my knee.
At my two-week follow-up appointment, a nurse had to remove the cast so my stitches could come out and the doctor could examine everything. If you've never been in a cast (a word of advice: keep it that way), it comes off through the use of a noisy instrument called a cast saw. The nurse held it up and turned it on so I could see and hear what it would be like.
Then she did something that really impressed me. (In retrospect, she probably does this with all patients, but that doesn't change the impact it had on me.)
Though she'd verbally assured me that the saw would cut only the cast and not me, the nurse took it a step further. She put the running saw blade against her own hand.
Sure enough, the cast didn't even nick her nitrile glove.
Granted, I was twenty-nine years old when this happened. I knew cognitively that the nurse wouldn't lie to me and that I'd be okay. But I was still tense because (a) I've never done well with loud noises and (b) all my previous experience said, "Saw + body parts = bad things happen. Keep that thing away from me!"
The nurse knew my apprehension was unfounded. But she didn't ridicule me or invalidate my feelings by saying, "There's nothing to be scared of," or "You're an adult. Stop being a wimp."
She met me where I was, acknowledged my fear, and showed me--in a way that, at first glance, seemed to risk her own safety--that I didn't need to worry.
As a result, I was still a bit nervous to have this vibrating, noisy thing close to my still-tender foot, but I was definitely more relaxed. And the cast removal went on without a hitch. (The stitches were another story. Several of them were quite happy where they were and didn't want to be evicted. Ouch.)
This experience reminded me of a key lesson about writing, particularly writing nonfiction. In many cases, at least some of your intended audience will disagree with or outright oppose the point you're trying to make. These days, especially on the internet, it's popular to mock those people, attack their character ("They're bigots," "These people are what's wrong with the world today," "They just want to make money," etc.), or otherwise literarily rip them to shreds.
There are two problems with this tactic:
It exacerbates the already-widespread problems of polarization and incivility. Trust me, that fire doesn't need any more fuel!
When readers feel attacked, they tend to double down on their opinions, not change them.
So instead of going on the offensive--as satisfying as it may be--take the (paraphrased) advice of one of my favorite books and ask yourself, "Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person think this way?" Most people are reasonable, rational, and decent, so they have reasons for thinking the way they do. Find out what those reasons are. Then, just as the nurse did by putting the cast saw against her hand, respectfully acknowledge those concerns and show why readers may want to think differently.
In short, attacks may get people to change their behavior quickly, but they leave lingering resentment that can explode later. Gentle, logical persuasion, on the other hand, works slowly, but it can bring about lasting change.
I know which tactic I'd rather have used on me. What do you think?
P.S. Do you have a piece that's almost ready to go out to the world? Click here to book a free discovery call with me so I can start helping you do a final polish!