The other day, one of my connections posted this on LinkedIn:

It got me thinking, and this is the response I wrote:

"Wise man. Sometimes we unknowingly form opinions based on incorrect information or assumptions. But if our goal is always staying true to our values, then changing our opinions to better align with those values is a good thing, not an existential threat."

I think one reason people get so defensive about what they think is that they misunderstand the difference between opinions and values. In fact, I suspect that even when people have vastly different opinions about how to address a problem, they're often approaching it with at least some shared values. For example . . .

Value: Eliminating poverty

Common opinion #1: The government should provide financial support and social programs for struggling people.

Common opinion #2: Families and communities should teach individuals to work hard, budget, and build up savings to reduce their risk of getting into financial trouble.

Value: Keeping our country safe

Common opinion #1: We should aggressively go after our enemies and eliminate their ability to harm us.

Common opinion #2: We should strive to establish strong diplomatic relationships with other nations and help eliminate suffering to nip potential conflicts in the bud.

In both cases, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with either opinion. I also don't think that either approach by itself is the solution. The problem is that that's often how people act: as if their opinion is the only "right" way and anyone who thinks otherwise is dumb, evil, or any other insulting adjective they can think of. #americanpolitics 🙄

So how does all this relate to writing? We can make a case that all nonfiction writing is ultimately persuasive writing. (Even if your primary purpose is to inform your audience, there's some element of persuasion because you have to convince the audience that you're credible and they should listen to you.) In most cases, you won't be asking people to change their values—just their opinions about how to address a certain problem. However, because of our tendency to conflate opinions and values, many people get defensive if someone proposes a different opinion.

How do we overcome this obstacle? We find and point out the values we and our audiences share, and we treat their opinions respectfully even if we disagree. This can get tricky, especially if/when we and the audience also have opposing values on some issues. But when we can show that we have a common cause and that we're not out to destroy those who disagree with us, our audience is much more likely to listen to what we propose.

I know. It's election season in the middle of a pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, racial tensions, and more. Tempers are running high, and nerves are stretched thin. Remember, at the end of the day, we're all humans, and that gives us at least one thing in common.

Write on,


(Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash)