Being in the business of influencing others, I read this book with great interest. Gardner suggests seven agents (or levers) of mind change:
The more levers that are pulled, the more likely one’s idea will influence others.
The tools that communicate ideas are: concepts, stories, theories, and skills.
Finally, there are six realms in which changes of mind take place.
One can think of these ordered arenas as an inverted pyramid:
Large-scale changes involving the diverse population of a region or an entire nation
Large-scale changes involving a more uniform or homogeneous group
Changes brought about through works of art or science
Changes within formal instructional settings
Intimate forms of mind changing
Changing one’s own mind (63)
Minds are both flexible and rigid. Gardner uses children as an example of the mind-changing paradox: “Children think about the world in ways that are fundamentally different from those exhibited by adults… And yet, apparently without the need for formal tuition, youngsters come to change their minds in fundamental ways. Moreover, and strikingly, these new ways are accompanied by total conviction. Indeed, most older children will refuse to believe that they had ever fallen prey to the earlier misconception—at least until confronted with a video of their earlier response” (51).
Changing one’s mind is significant to long-term change: “Behaviorists would have us think that the most powerful incentives for alterations in behavior are shifting contingencies of reward and punishment… Yet changes brought about chiefly through varying the patterns of reinforcement are superficial ones; they can be reversed as quickly and seamlessly as they have been brought on” (58).
Gardner provides a wonderful example of how the greatest mind-changers have both redefined a common story and personally embodied their message. This combination is powerful.
Gandhi, Mandela, and Monnet did not, however, take the easy way out. They did not just tell a simple, familiar story more effectively. Rather, they took on a far more daunting task: to develop a new story, tell it well, embody it in their lives, and help others understand why it deserves to triumph over the simpler counterstory. Moreover, they drew continually and imaginatively on several other levers of mind change: reason, multiple modes of representation, and resonance with the experiences of those whom they sought to influence. At the same time, they attempted to mollify the resistances that they encountered; they took advantage of real world events; and they marshaled whatever resources they had at their disposal… They took a more complex, less familiar story, a story that was more “inclusive,” and succeeded in giving that story life in institutions that continued beyond their own moments in the limelight. (88-89)
Of course, Jesus could also be added to this group!