Becoming persuasive and persuadable

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A conversation with Arthur Brooks.

He’s an author, social scientist, and economist. He’s also president of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

Brooks has a new documentary film hitting theaters soon. It’s called The Pursuit. It weighs capitalism versus socialism by looking at governments around the world.

EICHER: We’ll have a movie review on that next week. But today, WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick talks with Brooks about his new book, Love Your Enemies. It’s about how to cultivate better disagreements.

DERRICK: Well, we live in a divisive time, obviously. As you note in the book, 1 in 6 Americans has lost a friendship over politics. In your research, I’m curious, did you trace our current cultural climate back to a particular person or event? Or has this been more of a gradual development?

BROOKS: It seems to be a pretty gradual development, although most of it has happened and it certainly accelerated since the Great Recession. Populism has really become a salient thing over the course of the recession. It just kind of came to its full flower in 2016. That’s when it really was on everybody’s lips. Populism! Polarization! But it was growing for a long time before that.

See, the thing about politicians who are populist is they tend to be followers, and they jump in front of parades that are already going down the street. So I really chart the beginning of this from about 2008.

DERRICK: OK, and then also another thing you note in the book going back to 1960—or at least a comparison to it was—that you said 5 percent of Americans said they would be displeased if their child married somebody from the other political party at that time. Fast forward 50 years, that number has spiked to 40 percent. What’s driving that trend?

BROOKS: It’s funny, you know, as religion has become less important for most Americans, the nones are rising. By which I don’t mean “nuns,” Catholic nuns, I mean “nones,” people who classify themselves as having no religion. That actually has become less important in what people want to see their kids marrying. Not marrying outside the faith is way less important than it used to be, but we’re just as tribal as we ever were.

And it’s especially the case for ideology. Marrying outside the political ideology is the number one thing that people don’t want their kids to do. Which is so weird when you think about it. It’s like, you know, ah, my daughter, she loves this great young guy. He’s got a great job, he’s a Christian guy, fantastic. But he’s a Republican. I mean, it sounds so weird and yet that really drives a lot of decisions these days.

DERRICK: Right, right. So, I mean, in line with what you just said, I think most people would probably say our differences, they at least feel intractable. Particularly in the political realm. But you say just in the introduction, “I’m convinced that by following the ideas and rules in this book, you will be a happier, healthier, more persuasive person.”

What gives you that optimism that the answers are within reach like that?

BROOKS: Because all the stuff in my book is what I’ve done in my life, and I’ve become more persuasive and persuadable. I think I’m happier, and I think I’ve brought more happiness to other people, and I think I’ve done a little bit for American unity.

So this is basically a book that I’ve written as a self-improvement book for me. I’ve written a lot of books in my life, and they’re usually really institutional. Something’s not right, so we need better government, better capitalism, better business, better whatever.

And when I realized that we have a big moral problem like the polarization issue in this country where we treat each other with contempt, with hatred over political differences—and at the same time 100 percent of people listening to us love someone with whom they disagree politically—then we’ve got a huge moral problem on our hands. And when you’ve got a moral problem on your hands, you need to take a lesson from the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is time for personal revolution.

It’s so funny. Everybody has always wanted Jesus to have political revolution, right? He called people to personal revolution, and it’s always been the case, even with things that are not as fundamental as what Jesus Christ was teaching, but moral differences, moral changes that we make in our own lives that starts with our own hearts.

If we have a contempt problem in America, that means we have a contempt problem within each one of us, and each one of us has in ourselves the opportunity to turn that contempt into love. And in so doing, be more persuasive, be happier, bring greater happiness, bring greater unity. There’s literally no downside.

DERRICK: Well, you mentioned insulting someone who is essentially like a family member because we all have friends or loved ones who are of the other political persuasion. And you said when that happens that you actually think that people should take it personally.

BROOKS: Well, yeah, it’s interesting because I talk a lot about this book about something called the “outrage industrial complex,” which is a small minority of people who are getting rich and powerful and famous who are just getting satisfaction and internet followers by setting people against each other.

Ninety-three percent of Americans at least—depending on the survey you look at—93 percent hate how divided we’ve become and yet we let ourselves be pushed around.

We let total strangers on TV or in newspaper columns or on university campuses—right and left—tell us that people who disagree with us are stupid, evil, and deviant. Well, they’re talking about our family members, and the only way that we’re going to get our country back is to stand up against the outrage industrial complex and say, “Don’t talk about my mother that way. It’s not right.”

DERRICK: Well, and you also say that we hear a lot today about the need for civility and tolerance. But you say that actually isn’t what we need. Why is that?

BROOKS: Well, it’s funny. People always say that the cure to our current crisis is more civility. And I get the impulse. We should be civil to each other, I guess, but really? That’s a pretty garbage standard.

If I told you my wife and I are civil to each other, you’d say we need counseling. Or if I told you that my employees at the American Enterprise Institute they tolerate me, you’d say I have a huge morale problem on my hands.

The truth of the matter is that we need a higher standard, and the standard is to will the good of the other. Now, I didn’t just pull that phrase out of thin air. On the contrary. That’s St. Thomas Aquinas. That was his definition of love. And that means if we’re going to will the good of the other, we need to love each other.

And not just our friends and neighbors. But to do what Jesus said in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies. Most of the time when we do that, they weren’t our enemies all along, but in any case, we’ll change our own hearts, we’ll be more persuasive, and we’ll lead ourselves to be happier people.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.