Combatting Extremism in the Arena of the Heart

Part IV: The Stakes of the Midterms

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: There are no easy solutions to combatting extremism, but we can start in the arena of the heart. Nurturing our communities and relationships during times of uncertainty helps build resilience and a movement against extremism.

In Case You Missed It: The Emotional Barriers in Extremism
5-minute read - Read on for moreโ€ฆ

The challenge with combatting extremism is that it attacks the mental, emotional, and social realms of the individual and society at large.

  • Emotional: Keeping people in a constant state of fear hurts their ability to notice their own individual emotions.
  • Mental: When you canโ€™t feel your own emotions, people lose the ability to think rationally and critically.
  • Social: Extremist groups then pull them into their social circle and discourages engagement outside of the group leading to isolation.

What Do We Do About It

There is not one solution that will wipe away extremism, but there are many small things that we can do that will go a long way with:

  1. Increasing the publicโ€™s awareness of extremism
  2. Supporting people who have fallen down the rabbit hole

I believe our biggest challenge with extremism now is that weโ€™ve been diagnosing the problem incorrectly. As we talked about last week, the emotional layers are really the root of why more people are turning to extremism. Society is changing and many people have experienced immense trauma in the last few years that most have not acknowledged.

We cannot push back on extremism without addressing the emotional barriers within extremism. I see this work starting in two arenas:

  1. The political arena
  2. The arena of the heart

Today weโ€™re going to talk about the heart. Fear is increasing as the world becomes more and more uncertain. We cannot push back the darker forces who want to coopt fear to consolidate power without doing the interpersonal work.

Arena of the Heart

As we work in the public arena of politics to change the narrative and expose the truth of fascism, we also must do the emotional work within our communities.

We must nurture our communities and relationships during tough times so that we can remain resilient and support each other. It is not just about helping people out of extremism, but also about strengthening our communities so that these forces cannot pull us apart. Remember, the only way to a better world is together.

There have been many great books about how to change minds. I highly recommend, How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion by David McRaney. I canโ€™t do all of the research justice in a short newsletter, but there are a few key trends from all of the approaches that we all can apply to our daily lives.

Emotions Persuade, Not Facts

The work of changing minds is deeply rooted in the heart. Peopleโ€™s belief systems are extremely personal to them. It is their identity. They have been spending their entire life building the system after all. People make decisions on an emotional visceral level. So itโ€™s important to be open, nonjudgemental, and trusting when youโ€™re talking with someone you worry has become more extreme.

Many people get it wrong by trying to use facts. Facts will not persuade someone who already has a deeply entrenched belief system. Only emotions will. Remember that extremism uses fear, a very powerful emotion, to bring people in. We can do the opposite by using hope and love.

If you are having struggles with a friend or family member whose beliefs have turned more extreme, there are two ways to start.

  1. Stay Engaged (if itโ€™s healthy): When a loved one turns to extremism, they will likely grow distant. The first step is to remain engaged in that personโ€™s life. Extremist groups try to isolate a person away from their loved ones. By staying in a personโ€™s life, you have the ability to show them the outside world that they might be able to see. But a caveatโ€ฆif and only if it is healthy for you. Extremism can be accompanied by mental, physical, and emotional abuse. Itโ€™s important to stand for yourself and itโ€™s ok if you need to take space to protect yourself.
  2. Establish Trust: Rapport is key when you are helping someone change. If they sense shame or disrespect, they will shut down. Some call for โ€œradical hospitalityโ€ which is to be overly enthusiastic and supportive so that the person feels safe. Being authentic and curious can help you to have an open conversation free of shame.

Weโ€™re Not Changing Minds, They Are

First and foremost, the only way to change minds is if the person changes their own mind. Your goal is to not change their minds but to listen and reflect. Our belief systems are deeply rooted and only we can change them.

  1. Listen & ask questions: When youโ€™re having a conversation, the goal is to talk less and listen more. Your role in the conversation is to help them do their own processing and thinking.

Expose Anomalies

The ultimate goal is to help people think differently and question their own beliefs. To step out of their normal thought process to see a different perspective. If the conversation is successful, you have helped expose some anomalies in their belief system that could cascade into changing their mind. The human brain will justify a few anomalies. When the number of anomalies grows, the mind cannot justify them and so they will adapt to the new information and change their minds.

A recent viral TikTok helped expose what a 6-week pregnancy looks like. Visually showing the tissue and gestational sac helps question deeply held beliefs about abortion. For some โ€œpro-lifersโ€ this is an anomaly to their belief system. This one anomaly might not change their minds, but it opens up the possibility that they will be open to more anomalies and begin to question themselves.

  1. Ask about personal experiences: Help people think differently by asking them about their own experiences with the topic. When was the first time they realized they held this belief? Help them wonder โ€˜why do I feel this way?โ€™
  2. Reflect: Throughout the conversation, you want to repeat back what the person has said. Reflecting helps the other person think about their positions and clarify when there are anomalies. By reflecting, asking them to clarify, and then repeating back again, you are encouraging the person to do their own critical thinking.

Next Week: The stakes of the Midterms: fighting back in the political arena

The Good Knurd:

Now's your chance to join in on the action! Thoughtful ways to influence change within yourself and your local community.

  • ๐Ÿ—ณ๏ธ Do you have your Voting Plan? Have you asked your friends & family?
  • ๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ Discussion: What did you learn about changing minds that suprised you?
  • ๐Ÿซ‚ Community: Nowโ€™s your chance to see if these skills help in your conversations. What did you notice when you listened more reflected more in your conversation?
  • ๐Ÿ“š Read: How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion by David McRaney

Next Up

People Power to the Polls: Our Power Against Extremism
๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: Remember that we have more power than we know. There are more Americans with progressive values and we can push back against right-wing extremism at the ballot box this November. Read on for moreโ€ฆ
๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


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