An Opening and a $#!+ Screen

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

One of the things I like best about Miss Manners is how widely applicable her advice is. My latest case in point: Advice she gave to someone who is thinking about quitting his Bible study group.

I am not religious, but I found it quite profitable, so I thought I'd share her thoughts regarding how to address the inappropriate political jokes a man was being subjected to by the younger leader of his group:

Image by Sincerely Media, via Unsplash, license.
[Y]ou have a good subject for Bible study. There is a great deal in there about how to treat other people.

Miss Manners suggests you begin setting an example by refraining from criticizing your leader directly -- or condemning entire generations -- but instead talking about the temptation, in these politically volatile times, to jeer -- or worse -- at those with whom we disagree. It might be interesting to the group to examine the virtues and discuss the difficulties of practicing compassion and kindness.

If the response includes cracks about any faction or person, then yes: Find another group.
Setting aside, for the sake of argument, my qualms about the Bible as a source for moral guidance, it is very easy to essentialize what is going on here and see how useful this advice is: We have people who care (or say they care) enough about moral issues to meet regularly to discuss them -- and yet blatantly fail to practice one of their own tenets.

Miss Manners recognizes this situation as a chance for the writer to leverage the values he shares with this group (if they really do share those values) to improve his small part of the world. Of course, as her last sentence indicates, this group may not really value that tenet. In such a case, the writer now has learned the truth, and is free to find others who do share his values. (Indeed, the man has still improved his small part of the world, but did not have as wide an immediate effect as he had hoped.)

An important part of persuasion is to determine what values an audience has that are good and match one's own -- and build on those shared values to provoke thought about other issues. It is not always possible to do this in advance or know that one has an accurate read on the question. In such cases, we see that it is possible to filter for a receptive audience and attempt to persuade all at the same time.

-- CAV

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