Most of what we think and do have a deeper emotional tie. Changing these emotional ties requires internal changes. If you consider how hard it is to make those changes in yourself, you'll realize how little chance you have in changing others.
What kind of change?
A buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog vendor and says "Make me one with everything."
The monk pays with a $20 bill. When the vendor started helping another customer, the monk asks "Where's my change?"
"Change must come from within," replies the vendor.
This post isn't about how to make changes in yourself or someone else, it is questioning if anyone can make a change in someone else. When referring to change in people, we are usually talking about a change such as:
- Changing position on an idea or topic (cognitive)
- Altering a behavior or habit (physical)
- Changing how one feels about something (affective)
I believe that these types of changes must come from within a person, leaving you out in the cold. Sure, you can cause external changes, such as forcing, cajoling, pleading or punishing. People will adapt to those external changes, but not necessarily in the way you hoped. You may get compliance, but not internal change.
I'm sure that, like me, all your opinions are purely based only on facts. This means when you discover new information, your cognitive stance will change. Conversely, changing another's cognitive stance simply requires supplying the person with new information. Internet comments and discussion forums exemplify this (where is the sarcasm mark on this keyboard?).
So why are our own reactions to challenges to our supposedly intellectual ideas decidedly not intellectual? We are actually very good at fooling ourselves into providing a rational justification for a feeling we already have. Our feelings come first and the reasoning is a veil.
I believe that we actually hold very few purely cognitive stances. Things that are purely cognitive are usually inconsequential and are changed with a mere suggestion ("If you do it this way it works better.")
But who cares about changing those things in other people?
Television is like the invention of indoor plumbing. It didn't change people's habits. It just kept them inside the house.
-- Alfred Hitchcock
Well surely we can change someone's behavior. Um, no. As I mentioned above, you might get compliance, but you haven't really made a lasting internal change. Our latest understanding of habit formation involves three parts: a cue, a routine and a reward. The cue is the trigger, the routine is the behavior and the reward is how the brain learns and maintains the pattern.
While the cue and the behavior may be external, the reward is internal and personal. You can't change someone else's internal reward.
Affective or emotional change
My mood ring turns green when I'm happy and leaves a big red mark on someone's forehead when I'm mad.
We feel unconsciously. Even if we are aware of our feelings, it doesn't mean we can describe them or explain the reason we feel them. As your emotions are supported by biological processes, we find it difficult to alter our own feelings.
If we ourselves have so much difficulty in identifying and understanding our own emotions, let alone changing them, what chance do we have in changing someone else's emotions.
Most change involves changing a feeling
I used to see myself has a good logician; able to provide anyone who disagreed with me detailed evidence where they were wrong. I knew that people are rational and a simple statement of facts (as I see them) would change their mind.
Turns out that I was really good at annoying people. Now I simply try to change that which I have the most power to change: myself.