Why don’t facts always change people’s minds?

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wrote about why people do not shed their belief systems in the face of facts that prove them wrong. He said, “Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe, or worse, being cast out was a death sentence.”

On The Cale Clarke Show recently, Cale dove into this quote, drawing out Clear’s analogy. He was pointing to the idea that people will cling to their “tribe” or familiar worldview because it is their instinct for survival. When they’re provided with facts and evidence contrary to that view, it’s almost like their world is falling apart. Everything they have known is wrong, but if they leave those beliefs behind, they are leaving “their tribe”, their lifeline. So they ignore the facts and the evidence to maintain that blissful ignorance.

Clear goes on to say that people will often choose friends and family over facts because we care about the relationship too much. We don’t want to cause a social disruption or lose someone for good. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a very tightly woven community. If a member leaves their faith for whatever reason, they are shunned and their friends and family are forbidden to speak to them. That looming threat is a very compelling motivator to stay within the confines of a religion whose teachings conflict with facts.

So, what is our recourse in attempting to help others find the truth? If they will not listen to facts, then how do we proceed? James Clear says that if you’d like to have a greater effect on somebody’s outlook, you should help them change their tribe, as well as their mind. “If people abandon their beliefs, the risk for them is that they might lose their social ties. So, you can’t expect somebody to change their mind if you take away their community too. You have to give them somewhere to go. Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.” What does that mean? It means leading by example, being inclusive, welcoming, and charitable.

Showing somebody that they have somewhere else that they are loved and part of a family is integral. Part of the reason the Catholic family and network extends so widely and so deeply is because of this universal charity. Even though most Catholics will never meet one another, there is a level of familial bond that cannot be broken.

Clear quoted Abraham Lincoln as having once said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” There are redeeming qualities in everybody and we underestimate the power that friendship can have on opening somebody’s minds to the truth. We see Jesus time and again sharing meals with sinners, tax collectors, zealots, and sinful women. “Facts don’t change people’s minds very often. Facts don’t change people’s minds, but friendship does. Friendship can,” said Cale.

Another insightful suggestion in leading people to the truth is to do it in private by giving them the resources and time to discover it on their own. Often, when in a lively discussion regarding the efficacy of something, one person stonewalls the other because they don’t want to lose the battle. They’re only thinking about their rebuttal and not the case that the other person is making, therefore rendering the discussion futile. Instead, suggest reading material or resources to the other person to read on their own time. That way, it’s quiet, they can reflect, and they have no need to respond right away for the sake of their pride.

Listen to the full talk below:

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.