Few years ago Robert Cialdini wrote the book Influence that outlines the ways in which you can persuade people.
[cue ethical debate here]
We’ll talk ethics another time because today I want to talk consistency.
It’s been a while since I read that book, but the chapter on commitment and consistency stands out as the one that blew my freaking head open. The premise is when we declare something out loud (commitment), we’re inclined to act in accordance with that declaration (consistency), even if it makes no sense.
It’s the reason why you go to a birthday party you don’t want to go to: because you already told them you would (commitment). And there’s an unwritten law that you must act in accordance with your commitments (consistency).
There is no actual law that states you need to follow through on what you say you will do. In fact, there are many arguments that you should not. For example, if new information comes to light. In the example of this birthday party, if you wake up that morning and you have a fever, you should not go to the birthday party.
Our reluctance to change our minds and behavior even in the event of new or conflicting evidence BLOWS MY MIND. Also because I totally do this.
I am, ladies and gentlemen, a human being and beholden to all of the cognitive biases you are. Daniel Kahneman famously admitted this on a podcast recently and I died. Someone asked him if he was any better at judging people because, you know, his work basically DISCOVERED biases. He laughed and told the interviewer that despite his best efforts he is, in fact, human.
And it’s our humanity I’m most interested in lately. Insight is stalled in helping us overcome our human biases. Because we need both insight AND action. But the action part is really hard and I don’t want to do it.
There’s an election coming up in the United States (how’s that for a segue). I haven’t a clue if we’re sincerely on the brink of a civil war of if news media is on the verge of collapse and this garbage is one last-ditch effort to stay relevant and profitable.
In this moment, I sincerely don’t care.
What I care about is did you learn your lesson?
My dad used to say, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” And we’re losing like crazy right now, so did you find the lesson?
We’re neck-deep in a pandemic and a whole slew of fun systemic problems. But have YOU changed?
Not like, do you take calls on Zoom now and wear a mask. No. Like what are you doing with that suppressed anger? Did you confront it yet? Have you learned to align what you say with what you mean? Are you still getting into that recurring fight with your mom? Did you write a poem?
Because poetry is “the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” You’re damn right that’s Audre Lorde. Go get your textbook and open to page four:
“As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action.”
[pause here a moment to let it sink in]
It seems to me the most important work right now is the work we’re not doing. The inner work of feeling what we don’t want to feel, telling the truth about what we see, acknowledging our own role in it (while also holding others accountable), and choosing a new path forward.
Instead, we double down on being (ahem) consistent with commitments that no longer serve us. We cling to old identities, achievements we don’t value, career paths that leave us wanting, relationships that don’t work, expectations of others.
My challenge to you today (and every day) is to act inconsistently from what’s expected of you.
Find your lesson.
Tell the truth.
Write some GD poems.
And for the love of all things holy GO. FREAKING. VOTE.
I’ll see you on the other side,