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In the Push for Racial Justice, There’s a Middle Path Between Passivity and Aggression


Real moral suasion is about relationship-building, not browbeating.

We all know that race relations are toxic in our society today. Debates over statues, critical race theory in education, police reform, and election reform are only the tip of the iceberg.

Some would have us believe there are only two routes to ending racial alienation: Either we take a passive, colorblind approach, or we take an aggressive, antiracist approach. But there is a third and better way to solve the problem. To understand that path, it is valuable to understand first how we use reason, power, and moral suasion to affect others’ actions.

By way of illustration, let’s say that you have a child unwilling to clean up his room. How do you get him to do start doing that? Or you have a friend dating a guy who is mentally manipulative and even abusive. You fear for her safety. How do you get through to her? Or you are teaching a student who needs to put more time into his studies. Can you get him to do that? Or your aunt is picking up some of the most toxic QAnon philosophy. How do you show her the error of those ideas?

One option is to not try to convince your son, friend, student, or aunt to change. But we often are in situations when we believe that we must change the perspective of others.

If we want to persuade someone to change, we have the options of using power, moral suasion, or possibly reason. But to be honest, I think using reason to convince others is overrated. Most of us are not as driven by reason as we’d like to think. Confirmation bias and groupthink tend to interfere with our ability to rely on just our intellect to make decisions. We easily mistake our emotional desires for rational conclusions.

If reason is not reliable, then we are left with the other two options: power and moral suasion. …

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