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Changing Minds

(Article published in the Aug 25,2004 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

When Dr. Howard Gardner comes to town this coming February, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will have an excellent opportunity, during the courtesy call that his hosts are arranging for him, to pick up a tip or two on what to do in order to get our countrymen to cast away the current mood of national helplessness and rally this country effectively against the problems besetting it.

Dr. Gardner is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, a theory that challenges the idea that there is only one human intelligence and such intelligence is measured by what we know as the IQ test.  Last year, after writing 18 books and several hundred articles, this multi-awarded and distinguished Harvard Professor wrote “Changing Minds” which explores the art and science of changing minds of people, others as well as ourselves.

In Changing Minds, Dr. Garner identifies (a) the various agents and agencies of mind change; (b) the tools they have at their disposal, and (3) the seven factors that help determine whether they succeed or not. In the process, he demonstrates the power of his cognitive based approach to the study of the mind in contrast with the other approaches, such as those based on biological factors or on cultural or historical determinants.  Chapter 4 ought to be of particular interest to the national leadership because in that chapter, the book focuses on how leaders of diverse populations, such as Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton were able (and in the case of Newt Gingrich, unable) to change the mind of their constituencies.

There are seven factors, Dr. Gardner sometimes calls them “levers”, which could cause an individual, or for that matter a population, to change or not to change his or her or their mind and act accordingly.  These levers are (a) reason; (b) research; (c) resonance; (d) representational redescriptions; (e) resources and rewards; (f) real world events; (g) and resistances.  A change of mind is most likely to occur, Dr. Gardner observes, when the first six are pushing in the same direction, and the pull of the seventh, namely resistances, is relatively weak.










Reason is a particularly potent lever of mind change among those who to adhere to the definition of man as exclusively homo sapiens.  Some form of rational justification is usually to move people to action, particularly in our country where having a katwiran is an essential requisite for inducing people to at least listen to what one has to say.  Even my six year old granddaughter asks “why?” whenever told to drop something she is doing and ordered to do something else instead.

Secondly, in this age dominated by science and technology, a dash of research, i.e. invoking the combined impact of data collected under some scientifically determined method, is likewise useful in the effort to change minds because research lends an air of gravity to a message.  Research, by itself, may not be sufficient to significantly change minds.  But coupled with reason, it provides the “meat” to the rationale offered for change.

Resonance is a quality in a change message that gives the impression that what is being said fits the hearer’s experience, beliefs, or own thinking and thus renders requiring further evidence to be unnecessary.  Resonance readily persuades the man in the street. Thus, advertisements of health drinks always feature one who exudes energy, and who is young, vigorous and shapely.  After all, would you believe that skimmed milk will help you slim down if endorsed by a fatso?

A message has the quality of representational redescription if it can be stated in various ways.  Stating a point in many ways to a diverse population is likely to convince a large constituency because the people making up the audience have different intelligences.  The class room lecture or sermon from the pulpit may bring home the point to sector A of the population but not to sector B.  But sector B could very well see the point if it is delivered in song and dance.  Obviously, stating the same point in both ways will result in convincing both sectors A and B.

Considerable resources backing up the delivery of a message and providing rewards for embracing it would make that message easily acceptable.  Convincing teachers to introduce their students to the wonders of the computer age would by far be easier if, for instance, every classroom is provided with a working computer.

Real world events could also tip the balance in favor of a message.  Kids have always been told that smoking was bad for them.  But there is nothing like a member of the family succumbing to lung cancer attributable to chain-smoking that will convince a teenager to give up smoking despite peer pressure.

Mind change, by definition, involves some form of resistance to the change.  An individual’s background will always have with him a baggage of beliefs, prejudices, opinions, and inclinations which may militate against a change of mind.  For instance, convincing people to voluntarily pay taxes in the right amount and promptly is most arduous if the people are of the belief that government simply wastes the revenues it collects, or that politicians enrich themselves using the people’s money, or that government has failed to provide the services it is expected to render.

After identifying the levers of mind change, Dr. Gardner in the rest of the book demonstrates how these factors are brought to bear on a range of entities, from a heterogeneous or diverse group, to a more or less homogenous body, like a social club, and finally to single mind, namely, one’s own.  Each area has its own interesting features that make it receptive to the influence of one factor or another, but for the moment, it suffices for us to focus on Chapter 4 to see how the levers were made to operate successfully on a nation.

Margaret Thatcher stands out as exemplar mind change. She was able to change her nation with a story line which is summarized by “Britain has lost its way” and proposition that she was the one who could lead Britain to the right path.  She employed reason, research, representational redescriptions, resources and rewards, and fortunately for her, she was favored with real world events.  She was thus able to successfully fight off counterstories, e.g. that Britain’s lost glory is lost forever and that Britons should be content with playing second fiddle to Americans, that posed as obstances to the change she exposed.  Too bad that (perhaps another evidence of the insidious effect of power on a human person) her tenure did not and in a way that left her countryman sweet memories of her.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Dr. Gardner examined Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.  Clinton’s success Dr. Gardner attributes to his ability to cause resonance in his audience, to Bill Clinton’s knack for studying the personalities he was dealing with and determining what it took to get them to go along with him.  Lack of resonance, on the other hand, was identified to be primarily what prevented Newt Gingrich to make people see it his way.  His style failed to neutralize opponents (one of them, Bill Clinton) and his story line conflicted with his own life. 

Of particular interest to our national leaders should be Dr. Gardner’s identification of a tool that leaders of diverse groups have successfully used to change their constituents’ minds.  Dr. Gardner submits that what is needed to change the mind of a heterogeneous group is a compelling story (reasoned and researched), that is lived in one’s own life (resonance) and is presented many different formats (representational redescriptions) so that it can eventually topple the counter stories of the opposition. The story must be simple, easy to identify with and evocative of pleasant experiences.  It must also capture the audience at the visceral level, provoking the audience, as it were, to fill in the for themselves and as they saw fit, the unsaid details of the story.  In that way, everyone envisions a role for himself to play and a place in the grand scheme of things. They too become owners of the story.

         Space prevents us from further discussing the wealth of ideas Dr. Gardner shares in Changing Minds as well as in ventilating the fruits of his and his colleagues’ studies.  Those interested in hearing him and his work in person as well as in sharing in the effort of bringing him to our people may wish to get more details of his visit early next year from Ms. Joy Cannon-Abaquin, Directress of Multiple Intelligence International School Foundation, Inc., at 4 Escaler St. Loyola Heights Quezon City, tel. no. (632) 9280143 and (632) 4334949.  Fax No. (632) 4334948.

 

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