When you know something is right and you know others need to change their thinking about a situation or a circumstance, how do you convince them? There are a couple of ways to do it. You can nag, but personally I don’t find that avenue useful at all, since nagging spurs me to ignore whoever is talking. You can lecture. You can hit people over the head with your points, metaphorically of course. But I haven’t seen that any of those options really work.
If the goal is to convince someone to change their mind, you can’t change their mind for them; you have to convince them that it’s worth doing and then step back and let them make the choice.
Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.
The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.
I had to write a number of persuasive papers and speeches all throughout my school years, and while I didn’t really enjoy doing them, I know I learned a lot about persuading people. The one speech that stands out in my memory is a persuasive speech I gave in a college class about why our university needed to switch food service providers.
I gave a lot of good points, and I listed all the facts. And I put up lots of pictures of food. Like pizza. And hamburgers. By the end of the speech, the whole class was ready to agree with me just because they were so hungry they wanted to go eat lunch!
So I contrast that speech with the caucus I attended for the last presidential race. I wrote a funny, stupid blog post about it on a funny, stupid blog I started years and years ago and haven’t had time to update. But it was mainly an experience where a lot of old people gathered and lectured on the merits of their respective candidates, some with fervor verging on religious. I hadn’t felt so harangued since the last time I was in a Baptist church, and instead of being persuaded to vote for any of them, I was put off entirely. I still voted, but I actually ended up voting for the representative who was the most professional and didn’t scream at us.
This verse in Proverbs says that pleasant words are persuasive. It sort of echoes Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer deflects anger.” There’s something about being pleasant that encourages people to talk to you, to listen to you. Maybe it’s a lack of pleasant people around, but if you can maintain a pleasant tone and attitude you’re far more likely to have a good conversation with someone, no matter if you’re trying to convince them of something or not.
So can you be pleasant and still persuade people? I think so.
The difference is your perspective. Because unpleasant people try to change the way other people think by beating them to death with their words, but pleasant people understand how other people think. If you want to convince someone to change their mind, you have to let them make the choice. Otherwise, they aren’t changing their mind; they’re just trying to get you off their back.
And let’s face it: getting in people’s faces about any topic isn’t attractive. Yelling and shouting and being offensive about any topic doesn’t make me want to agree with you; it makes me want to get away from you.
Now, are there circumstances where certain levels of righteous indignation is necessary? I think so. There are some issues where passionate speech is needed, but speech can still be passionate without being unpleasant.
Pleasant words are attractive. Pleasant people are attractive. Pleasant people are refreshing to be around and are uplifting on bad days. Pleasant people are just fun. They’re the people you go to when you’re down or when you’re discouraged about something or when you’re confused and need advice. You don’t go running to some obnoxious Bible thumper when you need direction, do you? If you do, that’s fine, but generally that’s not my preferred course of action. I run to the people I like to talk to anyway.
It doesn’t matter what topic you’re discussing. Just be nice about it and remember that it’s not your job to change other peoples’ hearts or minds. That’s something God does. You just be pleasant and use pleasant words, because in our selfish, idolatrous world (and even our mean, unfriendly Church) pleasant words are persuasive enough.