Are we losing the art of persuasion?

I love Terry O’Reilly’s CBC show, Under the Influence, but a much preferred his earlier title for the show “The Age of Persuasion”.    In our modern times, influence is a much more pejorative term than persuasion.  When I am trying to persuade you of something I need to convince you, make good arguments, warm you up.

Influence is something difference.  Even if you don’t like me.  Even if you really don’t like my position on an issue, if I have influence over you – your boss, an authority figure, peer pressure, etc. – you might agree with me without persuasion.   In fact, persuasion may never be part of the equation.

I understand that O’Reilly’s show means influence in a more indirect way but I still prefer persuasion, particularly these days.

These days our public debates are increasingly positioned as a battle between good and evil.  We don’t have opponents, we have enemies.  If someone is unsure about climate change, they are just stupid.  If someone is uncomfortable with increasing immigration, they are racist.  If someone supports some type of resources development they are to be treated like an enemy.  And this “you are either with us or against us” approach is implied in just about everything.

We live in a democracy, folks.  If you want to shape public policy, or by the way, get just about anything done in a democracy, you need to get buy-in.  You need to convince enough people that you have the right ideas.

With few exceptions, you don’t face an enemy. You face someone with a different view that you.  Sure, there are people that have views similar to Nazis.  But before you call someone a Nazi, they should have basically advocated Nazi ideology and actions.  If you call everyone who wants to limit immigration a Nazi, what label is left for the real Nazi?

Words matter, now more than ever.

Let’s try and get back to the difficult but ultimately more robust process of persuasion.  Ramming through policies through intimidation, threats or undo influence is not the best way to get things done.