On One Hand

July 3, 2014

A simple trick to stop ‘arguing’ and be really persuasive

Filed under: culture,science — ononehand @ 2:07 pm
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There’s a tendency to think of persuasion in terms of winning an argument or debate. You’re trying to be rational: you’re thinking that if you defend your position with logic and evidence, and prove that the counter-arguments are false, the other person is now obligated to switch to your view.

If only life were so simple. In your mind you have proven you are right, but the other person is just thinking she or he needs to do some homework to come up with a better rebuttal tomorrow. Once you set someone up as your intellectual adversary they are not going to cross the line to join you.

That might be why political debates don’t have a significant influence on elections, no matter how well one side does or how eloquently the positions are argued. People root for the candidate they already support, and the arguments can stir up enthusiasm but they don’t “convert.” There’s a very different way that candidates vie for votes.

The reality is that people in the day-to-day world believe things because they want to. There are just far too many competing ideas and decisions to make to investigate each one objectively. Everyone is able to weigh different factors — pros and cons — to arrive at an opinion or decision, but the weight people grant to each factor comes down to how much they like and identify with it.

Persuading effectively comes down to this simple approach:


  • Identify an idea that you and your audience can already agree on. (Common values or principles, something you might both say is a problem, a universal need, etc.)
  • Validate your audience’s existing beliefs, observations and experiences.
  • Explain that those same reasons drive you to stand where you do.

And that’s basically it. People are very inclined to side with you simply because you are someone with similar concerns and reached the conclusion you did.

The main goals are to be relatable — the person you are trying to persuade is your peer, not inferior to you — and to emphasize your area of agreement so much that the other factors fade from mind.

Here’s the important part: DO NOT argue points where you disagree. Acknowledge them as valid points and then steer the conversation away from them. No matter how ridiculous you think they are and no matter how strong your evidence against them is, you’re not going to convince people their own interests or ideas are wrong. They will always be a factor, but you can say that a different set of factors (the ones that support your cause) are more compelling for you.



Think back to the last time you observed a political campaign. One thing you won’t see a candidate do is try to get voters to change their minds about their basic ideals and principles. They won’t try to convert liberals into conservatives or convert conservatives into liberals, but the candidates will jump and tumble over each other trying to validate the experiences and values of crucial swing voters.

They’ll say, “We know that families in Ohio are struggling.” (something that they’ve poll-tested to be sure the audience they’re targeting agrees). “Jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many people are worried whether the manufacturing industry — once the backbone of the American economy — is ever going to come back…” (validating the audience’s existing worries and experiences) “…which is why I have a plan to create more than a million new manufacturing jobs over the next five years.”

This candidate might disagree with the target audience when it comes to immigration policy, foreign policy or social issues, but isn’t going to try to sway their minds on those things. She’ll just keep hammering on areas where she and the audience agree, and try to make the election all about those things.



Now I call this a “trick” because that’s what it is; while it comes instinctively to many people, it’s a technique that can help you towards high-minded goals as well as goals that are very selfish and manipulative. If you’re trying to get people to turn against their own interests, eventually they’re going to figure that out and you might never gain their trust again. And if someone senses over time that you’re only feigning commonality to persuade them without being open to their ideas as well, they’re going to get really annoyed and stop listening to you. You’re better off if you’re looking to learn from people as much as to persuade them.

So be genuine and authentic, approach everyone by trying to find your common ground, and stop wasting your energy arguing! (Unless it’s something you really enjoy doing.)

April 19, 2009

What’s Wrong with Zoos

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:03 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve slowly come to the realization that I don’t think zoos are ethical. We treat the process of trapping and caging large animals like some progressive fountain of civic utility and ecological awareness – but instead zoos are weirdly voyersistic housings, where animals are kept in an artificial vegetative state by small enclosures and unnatural settings.

If a tiger is used to a range of over 25,000 acres, putting him in a pen the size of a living room seems downright barbaric. It would be like keeping a human being inside a bathtub forever. Would anyone expect an animal to behave “naturally” under those circumstances? It should be no wonder that zoo animals tend to appear antsy, lethargic or neruotic as they pace back and forth in the enclosed area. If a psychiatrist peered into that animal’s psyche, he would probably find anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and clinical depression.

I’m not saying “down with zoos,” I’m saying zoos need to change. I’m for drastically reorganizing the physical layout of zoos in an intelligent way to maximize the benefit to the animals and also, hopefully, enhance the educational experience.

Every zoo of sufficient size could be ancored by ONE habitat for megafauna based on a single natural ecosystem, which would take up at least half of the total area in the zoo. By “megafauna” I mean any animal larger than a dog. Zoos should network with other zoos to choose who gets which exhibit and trade animals to fit the pieces together. One can use half of its property to construct a large Savannah habitat for zebras, warthogs and hippos. The organization will give its camels to another zoo that can construct a large Desert habitat for camels and goats and desert foxes. The habitat doesn’t have to be perfectly round or square shaped – it should wind and weave and be stretched out so that most of it is near the viewing area – but the animals’ living area should be at least one and a half square miles in size, which is about half the size of a large zoo and means there won’t be more than one exhibit in an urban zoo.

By trading animals, Association of Zoos and Aquariums can hang on to all its animals it keeps for “conservation” purposes, but give them a life that is of some semblance to what they get in the wild. The visitor’s experience with the zoo is not as broad, but instead goes in-depth into the particular ecosystem it focuses on most. Then tourists have an incentive to visit the other zoos when they vacation in other cities, and the entire association can benefit.

Living areas of a square mile or more would be an improvement for any large animal, but still aren’t big enough for every kind of animal. Zoos bill thesmeslves as scientific places so I think it’s appropriate for science to play a role in what stays and what goes – ecologists can determine if an animal’s natural range is comparable to 1.5 square miles. An elephant’s range is hundreds of square miles, so it’s clear that 1.5 isn’t big enough and they wouldn’t be kept in any standard zoo.

If the zoo’s space is not conducive to the needs of the animal, the animal shouldn’t be kept there. Sadly, that means that many animals we typically associate with zoos will have vto go: elephants, tigers, wolves and others – especially most predators – can’t be kept in urban zoos anymore.

But perhaps a hippopotamus and an ostrich could be comfortable in a space of under 2 square miles, and zookeepers can determine which species get along with each other well enough to go into the exhibit. They don’t necessarily have to be from exactly the same geographical region, as long as zookeepers can be sure they won’t attack each other.

Meanwhile, zoos can have other exhibits outside their main anchor exhibit. Smaller habitats can house snakes, lizards, turtles and rodents that don’t need a large range. Even some monkeys could live in a smaller caged space granted there is plenty of intellectual and environmental stimulation there, as well as natural light.

I forsee futuristic zoos where the animals roam free in their habitat and the humans are in the small spaces. A pathway, completely enclosed in glass, could snake through a large network of greenhouses – housing a manmade rainforest – where New World monkeys and parakeets and taipirs mingle together. Insect populations living there give the animals natural feeding habbits, and also add to the fauna for viewers to appreciate. The monkeys have plenty of full-grown trees to play around on giving them a multi-dementional and naturalistic home. The key is for the animals to share a large space rather than being separated, so that they have more mobility and can interact with a wide variety of peers and plants.

That way people pass through the confined tube and the animals get some freedom. In some cases the pathway doesn’t even have to be in glass – if the animals are small, shy or tame enough, and you can be certain people will behave and stay on the trail, a fence is sufficient barrier.

I like how the Denver Zoo lets peacocks wander free in public areas, which means they have a relatively boundless range. Wild geese land and raise young in the park and eventually lose their fear of humans. That’s the kind of thing I’d like to see happening in zoos more often, where animals are interacting with human beings but still have roaming freedom. Animal rights activists might complain this human-animal mixing is still “unnatural” but I think it represents a fair balance that focuses on the animal’s interest. I’m not a nature-supremacist who thinks any human alteration of the wilderness is bad, but I’m concerned with the interests of the animal as well as the scientific accuracy of how they are presented.

So the zoo of the future I am envisioning looks like this:

The visitor enters the zoo and in one direction is an enormous “ecosystem” where animals selected for co-habitability will mix and mingle. Trails that people can walk on will surround the ecosystem and bridge over it, allowing visitors to walk into the heart of it and look down from a safe distance. Part of the housing area – where animals can get shelter when the weather is bad – will be accessible from the path as well.

In the other direction will be 2-3 smaller “ecosystems” for small animals, similar to the large one but without megafauna. Most zoos already have these, but they often keep large animals in them when those animals need more space.

Beyond that will be single-species habitats for small animals that don’t need large spaces; insects, snakes, turtles and fish can fit in there. There will be no birds in small habitats since birds should have room to fly long distances.

Near the entrance area will be an educational center – something most zoos already have – with a theatre with videos of animals that don’t fit in the zoo, so the visitor can learn about elephants and cheetahs and jaguars and everything that was lost. If I were the designer I’d also have an exhibit explaining old inhumane zoos where animals were kept in cells behind bars, and the exhibit would explain how the new scenario is better.

Some zoos are already trying to achieve what I am saying, and I’m fairly confident that 50 years from now this is how they will all work. The only thing I am suggesting beyond where most zoos are now is that they have one large ecosystem for medium-sized animals and that they get rid of most large animals altogether.

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