Nothing is irredeemable and no one is unturnable.
Almost anyone can be convinced. It just takes the patience and implacability of a Champion.
Patience, kindness and open-mindedness must be tethered to your resolve. If all you achieve in a given conversation is a person’s begrudging admiration, know that you are moving them closer to conversion to your way of thinking.
Over time, you’ll get a sense of when you’ve reached a saturation point and need to move on. Once you’ve moved them as far as you can, stop. Change the subject. Be gracious. Talk about something else. Show genuine interest in something else, especially if you can establish common ground elsewhere.
How much a person seems unturnable or unconvincable is often driven by how connected to conventional power he or she is. Remember, the staid actors in your drama are counting on their institutional power to carry the day. They may assume that their institution’s stance on a given issue is unchangeable, and that even if they like you or your arguments, they’ll navigate by self-preservation first and think “I should know my place” and “not rock the boat.” You can actually make lots of headway in situations like these. Their assumption that your cause, noble as it may be, stands no chance, makes it easier for them to think “Well, what the hell… I’ll hear him out.” They’ve let their guard down, or perhaps it’s their better, more curious and optimistic nature winning out. Either way, you have a chance to make your case. Because you’ve chosen to play the longest of long game, all you have to do is move them one inch. That one inch could be admiration for your plucky resolve and positive, can-do civic optimism. They’ll think “I may not agree with him fully, but gosh, I admire him. Our city needs more optimistic doers like these people.” You may move them farther. Your conversation may also teach you something about the pain points or sticking points that person’s organization has. All of it can be tilled into the ongoing “compost pile” of leads, tips and clues that will help you build your case and lead you to the next helpful conversation. Just like there are early adherents, there are late adherents… even very late adherents. Where a person falls on this continuum is often linked to how connected he or she is to power and how powerful institutions use the might of conventionality to win the day. They count on a system of conventional moves that you are slowly but surely upending. You are slowly rewriting the stale old narrative with something much more compelling. This will take time, but that’s okay, you’re willing to take it. Some of the most reluctant people are often the most powerful and you have to be careful with some people. Some will respond only to power relationships… but some will see the conversion of peers who are as powerful or more powerful than they are and start to take notice. Some can be moved to consider your position if they see enough powerful peers of theirs start to believe you’re right. If that person is a seemingly unconvertible journalist, set them aside. Sometimes it is better not to “poke the bear” that could write a column and turn thousands against your cause. Peel off who you can from a given media outlet (there will be plenty of easier converts) and just know that entrenched, late adherents may only be brought along when the evidence is overwhelmingly in your favor and alliances they must respect emerge. Then and only then will they shake your hand and claim to have been with you all along. The nicer ones will admit they thought you were crazy but will say, in essence, “my hat’s off to ya.” Smile, be gracious, take the hard-fought win and resist the urge to lecture or gloat. Champions don’t need to. They have their hearts set on the wider win, which is always best served by being magnanimous, kind and generous. Always “take what the defense gives you.” If you can win a person over quickly, great. Count them among your allies and look for them to help, even if it’s just as a cheerleader from the sidelines. Those you can only move an inch, take it, and count on that person to at least be aware and most likely to be helpful in what you learn from them and what they may do with what they learn from you. And for those especially tough nuts to crack, remain kind, optimistic and confident when you do engage them, and minimize the damage they could do to your cause with the power they wield. In a sense, you want to treat people like that with kid gloves so you don’t make them dig in deeper as an enemy. Then they’ll be even harder to convert. If you can’t move them one inch in the right direction, at least don’t move them in the wrong direction. Leave them alone, make converts of their subordinates and peers and live to fight another day. Remember the old Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
People may remember what you said and did, but how you made them feel will be most important in terms of them listening to you in the future. Be kind always, even when it’s hard.