Opinion | Is Humility, Not Righteousness, the Key to Persuasion?

To the Editor:

Re “The Secrets of Winning Over People Who Are Wrong,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, March 4):

I have never read or heard an anti-liberal (I’ll just categorize Mr. Kristof’s unnamed opponents as that) say that they must find a way to listen better to liberals/progressives. If that were a principle they ever recognized, I might be convinced to play along. But no.

And I’ve seen too many liberals with the same lament as Mr. Kristof, as if we should bear some guilt or shame for being on the right side of a long history. Would Mr. Kristof have written a similar piece encouraging Lincoln and the North to listen more closely to Southern slave interests?

We have listened long enough, if not far too long. Progress, justice and reason have too long been subverted by anti-liberals using nothing more than lies and obstruction. Certainly there are times and places for talk and persuasion. But there are also critical mass moments when there are not.

As Stacey Abrams showed in Georgia, since we can no longer persuade our opponents, we must simply organize and outvote them, and deny them their minority power.

Lyndon Dodds
San Antonio

To the Editor:

I perceive a clear contradiction in the premise of the column.

A psychologist is quoted saying that “humility is often a more effective persuasive tool,” but I’d point out that Trump supporters have been persuaded to believe absurdities to the point of deep conviction by a man who is the antithesis of humility.

He is about as strident, cocksure and baselessly smug as a human being can get, and yet those qualities do not seem to hinder his capacity to persuade at all. In fact, they seem to be a crucial component of that capacity.

James McPherson
Kitchener, Ontario

To the Editor:

Thanks much for the important reminder that the best way to persuade is to listen. I teach caregivers how to work with clients who don’t want to admit that they can no longer do their own daily care safely. The first principle I give them is that telling someone they are wrong triggers an automatic response of marshaling arguments why they are right.

Only after we understand, from listening, why the other person believes as they do can we creatively show them how their basic values can be respected within a changed behavior or policy.

Would that the “woke” voices could hear how their stridency offends as much as does that of the conspiracy-shouting deniers of election legitimacy.

Niki Sebastian
Sapello, N.M.

To the Editor:

Nicholas Kristof has a formula for winning over people who are wrong. It’s called pandering, and it’s the main reason Democrats still lose elections to inferior Republican foes.

Al Gore’s humility in the 2000 race regarding his role in the establishment of the internet did not help him at all in the face of Republican mockery. Four years later, John Kerry’s humility about his military record likewise backfired in the face of swift-boating, leaving him to look weak.

Sorry, Mr. Kristof. Democrats can’t keep taking weasel words to a gunfight.

Christopher Bailey

To the Editor:

What a refreshing breath of complicated air! In my corner of the world (Baltimore), I host Purple Parties. Half far right, half far left. We don’t compromise or convert; we look for where we already agree. There’s lots of room for that, and just trying, talking and listening changes everything.

People say the red team won’t talk to the blue team, but they will if we listen. They will explain happily and sincerely, and some of what they say makes excellent sense and reminds me of values I learned growing up on a central New York State farm.

Purple Parties have been very successful, partly because any topic that has been in the news in the past two weeks is off the table. It’s fun!

Polly Bart

To the Editor:

The headline of Nicholas Kristof’s opinion piece on the need for humility in order to persuade shows no humility.

Linda Ross
Maplewood, N.J.

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