by: E.B. Johnson
It seems like no matter where you go in this world, there are those who vociferously deny science and all the plethora of evidence that comes with it. They deny climate change, life-saving vaccines, and even the glaring realities that are staring them in the face. Their denial knows no bounds, but where does it actually come from?
It turns out that there are a number of factors which can contribute to someone’s likelihood of denying science. From a desire to fit in with certain societal standards, to low scientific literacy and a commitment to conspiracies — learning how to communicate with those who deny science requires first understanding where the root of this denial comes from. If we’re ever going to fix the problems this planet has, we’re going to have to learn to trust one another and learn from each other.
Denial is a growing pandemic.
Incredibly, even though we live in the greatest in the period of greatest technological and scientific advancement, there is a growing trend of science denial across the globe. It’s become a badge of honor to deny the reality of things like the increasingly volatile climate, and it seems to be a point of pride to hold beliefs that are not only ludicrous, but dangerous and reckless too.
We’re going to have to overcome our inability to trust one another if we’re going to save our planet and our species. Time is running out, but communication and mutual understanding could make all the difference. Rather than looking to our ego to inform our decisions, we should look instead to our compassion and our common sense.
If we keep shouting one another down, we’re going to end up with nothing to show for it but heartbreak and upset. We have to find common ground and find more meaningful ways to relate to one another. Then we can begin to open up and begin to find the strength to trust in one another. Dealing with science-deniers in your life? Engaging in conflict won’t change their minds. Tapping into your compassion, though. That may be just the ticket.
Why they deny reality (and science).
There are a number of reasons behind someone’s ability to deny factual, scientific evidence. They may be clinging to beliefs handed down to them by society and a family they seek validation from. They may also harbor fiscal fears, or suffer from low scientific literacy and a high desire for self-preservation. Understanding the denier is the first step in helping them embrace reality.
One of the most common reasons people become compelled to deny science comes down to their fears. High among these fears can be fiscal fears, or the belief that major change will take your wealth and security from you. Maybe you’re afraid the truth will be too expensive to repair, so you ignore it altogether. The true expense, however, is the destruction that will come when fail to get on the same page and find common ground for our families.
Political allegiance can go a long way in informing someone’s likelihood to deny science or embrace it. We live in the age of political personality cults and this has taken a toll on our ability to reason and rationalize. Many believe the word of “their team” over reality, and deny anything that doesn’t align with what their leaders have told them. It’s tied to a sense of identity and belonging. By giving unquestioning allegiance, they are paid back in-kind with a superficial sense of belonging to a group.
The human species is one that is always looking out for its best interests. It’s only natural. In order for the species to survive, we have to survive. For our offspring to thrive, we have to thrive. Some people out there deny science because they perceive it to be a “change” to the world they know, and therefore a threat to their happiness. Acknowledging the truth would require so much pain / inconvenience. So it’s easier to deny science that disagrees with personal comfort. This crisis denial is dangerous.
Low scientific literacy
Are you someone who has had enough hands-on scientific experience to know that it’s real? You’re lucky. There are many in the world who don’t always get this experience, and this leads to a low level of scientific literacy. Your scientific literacy is basically your experience with science. Those who aren’t exposed to science during development can become fearful of it or think of it as “below them”. They may also perceive it to be something which is insignificant (or open for interpretation).
Believe it or not, religious conviction can go a long way in informing whether we will embrace or deny factually scientific evidence. Researchers noted that high religious conviction can lead to low faith in science and even low scientific literacy. It’s arguable that this conviction encourages faith in intangible personal beliefs. It’s strongly related to personal identity and the identities we form within our communities.
Investing in conspiracy
Conspiracy theories are everywhere these days. You can hardly jump onto the internet without being confronted with some new screwball idea which both baffles and confuses the mind. Those who invest in conspiracies can often see their beliefs spiraling further and further from reality, as they climb down rabbit-hole after rabbit-hole in search of more and more absurdity.
Array of inherited baggage
Some people deny science simply because they were raised to do so. The lessons our families teach us get stored as baggage deep, deep down inside of us. They are hard to overcome, even more so when we stay within reach of our family’s guilt and shame. In some families, ignorance is a badge of pride and the only mark of inheritance left to the clan. So the members wear it proudly, even as they doom themselves with their denials.
How to have a discussion with someone who denies the truth.
When it comes to communicating effectively with someone who denies science, we have to tread lightly. The way to best manage it is laid out by Scientific American, who explains the EGRIP technique — a means of compassionately talking to someone with different (and possibly incorrect) beliefs from your own. It’s all about finding the common thread of humanity between you both.
1. Deep-dive into emotions first ,
Although we tend to forget the fact, humans are animals and animals that we have had a long, long time to study. We’re emotional creatures, and our emotions move us to do everything from form beliefs to end relationships. They form the foundation by which we connect to others and see ourselves. They figure into our greatest triumphs and our loudest failures.
In order to get on the same page as someone with different beliefs from you, you need to understand their emotions and your own as well. Assume their emotions are getting in the way of their logic and examine what experiences may be feeding those emotions. Listen to what they say and set it within an emotional context.
What relevant emotions are at play? Is their anger moving them to react selfishly, or in a more self-centered way than they might if they were being moved from a place of calm and peace? Our emotions are loud and they are one of the most obvious ways to unlock the true thoughts of a person. Connect to one another on an emotional level, appeal to those things which you love, and you’ll be able to move on to the next phase: sharing goals.
2. Consider your shared goals
Just as most humans are emotional creatures that share the same core feelings, we also share a number of goals when everything is boiled down. We want to see our offspring thrive, and we want to know that we are safe. Beyond that, we want to have the comforts of food, shelter, and clothing. We want to live without exerting too much effort, and we want to have domain over our own environments.
One of the best ways to communicate with someone who denies your point of view is to find the goals you share. When we all want the same fundamental things, we can work better as a team to make the compromises that reach those goals. Find the common thread and follow the thought through.
This person who denies science — what world do they want for their children? What are their hopes for a career, or the retirement they dreamed of? Appeal to their humanity. Appeal to that part of them which just wants to see the world in enough peace to get on with the life they want to live. Appeal to the parent in the, the grandparent, the neighbor, the lover, the friend. Share your goals with one another and the hopes you have for the life you’re building.
3. Focus on building a connection
Rapport is everything when it comes to building a bridge with someone who denies the very real scientific evidence of things like climate change. When we build rapport with one another, we form a connection. We establish trust in one another and we make it easier to share ideas. It’s not enough to barrage someone with facts. You have to make them like you enough to listen to those facts in the first place.
No one wants to listen to someone they have no connection with. They don’t want to share ideas with a stranger, they simply want to prove their superiority or their worth. When you build a rapport with someone, you allow them to be okay with opening up. You allow them to be okay with being wrong in order to learn and get things right.
Don’t make it all about who is right and who is wrong. Establish trust and compassion with the person you’re trying to connect with first. Share parts of yourself with them. Allow them to examine teachable moments in which you got something right or had your mind changed thanks to evidence. Allow them too to display the knowledge they have on other relevant topics. Even when we’re wrong, we need to know that we still have the capacity to get it right.
4. Create an exchange of information
Once you’ve tapped into the core of someone’s humanity, aligned along your similarities, and established a rapport with them — you can then focus on exchanging information in a much more intentional (and conscious) way. When you’re comfortable with one another is the chance to sit down and have the serious conversations. In order for this to be successful, though, it can’t be a one-way street. You both have to ask questions and express your point of view honestly and openly.
Create an exchange of information with one another and open up an honest dialogue about your beliefs. Ask questions of your new friend, and probe deeply into how they arrived at their point of view. Leave your judgement at the door and come to the table with an open mind. Really seek to engage your empathy and put yourself in their shoes.
Don’t rush this conversation and don’t expect it to happen all at once. We don’t come to form such strong beliefs over night. They take time to form. Give yourselves time to hash out this conversation, but stay focused on the respect and compassion you share for one another throughout. Encourage them to ask you questions, and when they do present them with the factual information to back up your case. Don’t give unsolicited information. Allow them to come to you.
5. Finish with positivity (always)
No matter what the outcome of your conversation may be, it’s important that everyone involved closes things out with positivity in every instance. We hold a lot of our ideological beliefs tight, and we take it personally when they aren’t shared by others. When someone tells us we’re “wrong” we can lash out and try to punish them. Instead of reacting so negatively, though, we should seek to react always in the positive instead.
Leaving things on an upward note allows you to come back to one another at a later date. It leaves the conversation on the table as a possibility, even while the parties involved have agreed to walk away. It also communicates a deeper sense of respect, which transcends any belief we may hold on to.
Don’t shut someone down or shut them out with insults. Ultimately, it’s not your job to change someone’s mind — so the result of your conversation is moot. Sure, convincing someone to get in line and save the planet would be great. But it’s not authentic if they don’t come to that desire on their own. Whatever you decide, decide to always move toward one another in love and respect.
Putting it all together…
We’re living through times that sometimes seem stranger than fiction. The world is rife with political tension and social turmoil. We’ve seen the people we love change right before our eyes, and the very fabric of western society crumble. Among these staggering developments, though, has risen the denial of both science and fact. How do you reach someone when they refuse to accept reality? Our hope lies in direct and trust-building communication techniques.
You can’t force a denier to see things your way with sheer force alone. In order to stand any chance of connect with them and shifting the way they think, you have to use the EGRIP technique to reach their deeper humanity. Appeal to their emotional side first and get a grip on what feelings are feeding their beliefs. Then consider your shared goals and the similarities that unite you. Build connection by building rapport. Establish some trust in one another, so that you can create an honest exchange of information in which you can share and be open with your ideas and beliefs. No matter what the outcome of your communications, try to end with something positive. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and that means we want comfortable lives in which we (and our families) can thrive.