In the latest episode of Game of Thrones (season 6, episode 7), Daenerys Targaryen accuses Tyrion Lannister of taking her enemies side. He replies:
I am taking their side. You need to take your enemies side if you’re going to see things the way they do, and you need to see things the way they do if you’re going to anticipate their actions, respond effectively and beat them, which I want you to do very much.
This is very similar to what I wrote in my blog post Empathy Is The Ultimate Persuasion Tool. However, this take adds another layer. Empathy isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. Even if you were coming purely from a totally cold strategic perspective, empathy is the right choice.
As entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “doing the right thing is always the right thing.”
Game of Thrones is of course a fictional example. What would this look like in practice?
Recently, I watched a film called Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America. The film follow Daryl Davis, an accomplished musician and middle-aged black man, who has the unusual hobby of befriending members of the KKK, and leading them to to give up their hate through his friendship.
Now – the KKK is an evil organization. Full stop. And if someone were to ask you to be friends with an evil group, most reasonable people would say “hell no!” Yet Daryl, a black man and the target of their hatred and evil, does. Why?
In Daryl’s words, “always keep the lines of communication with your antagonist open,” because “if you’re talking, you’re not fighting.” He also says, “Give that person [who hates you] a platform. Allow them to air their views, and people will reciprocate.”
Daryl believes that if you make people feel safe and listen to their views, then they will do the same for you, and you can lead them to the higher ideal. Persuasion science agrees with him. The seminal book on persuasion, Influence by Robert Cialdini lists reciprocity as the number one persuasion tool. Trained persuaders know you have to “go there first,” meaning that if you step into the feeling you want others to join you in, they will follow.
I’ve been thinking about that recently, because of the recent news in my former city – Charlottesville, VA.
The Side That Loves
These events are difficult for me to write about. Growing up in Charlottesville, there was a running joke that “nothing ever happens here.” Charlottesville was a small town where life was simple. Seeing locations where I grew up as a backdrop for political violence has been strange and saddening. Even writing about them, I’ve had to spiral into the subject.
After those events, a phrase emerged in the media, “there’s only one side to hate.” I think that’s true. And it means we have to become the side that loves.
If our message is tolerance and inclusion, we must extend it even to people we hate. This is not easy. But it’s right. And practically speaking, it is the most effective choice.
However, it is possible. If the father of a woman killed in those events can forgive and love his enemies, so can we. There is even a model for using in protest, which I wrote about after the election.
The opposite would be a reciprocity of violence. Escalation. Civil war. The law of reciprocity is always in a effect. If you do violence against people, you there is a possibility they will reciprocate – especially if those people are bad people, who have no qualms about violence already.
Becoming the side that loves is not the same as doing nothing. It’s actually very hard. It’s so hard that some people find it easier to commit violence. Those people are on the side that hates. Which side do you want to be on?
As the Bible says, love your enemies.
It’s the practical strategy.
- Empathy Is The Ultimate Persuasion Tool
- Imagination Is The Key To Empathy
- How A Group of Healers Helped End Election Riots In Oakland
- A Zen Priest On Is It Ok To Punch A Nazi?
- Video: The Logical Conclusion To Violent Escalation