While walking with two of my daughters in Northeast Portland, a man hurried past us with long strides and flapping dreadlocks. He was yelling into his phone. “…If he tries to tell you what God wants, that is the height of blasphemy! No one should tell you what to believe! I’m so tired of…” And then he was gone – winding past strangers and jumping over potholes.
Setting aside the confusing comment about blasphemy, this man’s perspective is worth exploring. Is it wrong to attempt to influence someone? We have all heard something like the following:
- “I wish people would stop trying to impose their values on me.”
- “All belief systems have some good and should be preserved.”
- “You should not teach your children about this. Let them grow up and decide what they want.”
At the center of each of these is the message that persuading others is wrong. The popular notion is that we would all be better off if no one tried to change anyone else. Live and let live right?
Some of us with nonconforming opinions feel cowed by such sentiments. We live in a world of tepid exchanges where few are willing to challenge an opinion or state that behavior is misguided. So we keep the conversation superficial where there is no chance to challenge or offend.
Both Jesus Christ and the devil have perspectives on influence. Jesus says, “You are to be complete in goodness, as your Heavenly Father is complete.”1 And “The devil seeks that all [people] might be miserable like unto himself.”2
This is one of the rare attributes that God and Satan share. They both want to convince us to be more like them. We mortals are no different. We like those who are similar to us – those with whom we share world views, activities and interests. There is a large body of research supporting this view.3
People are hard-wired to influence and draw others toward them. And our species is so successful in part because we work in groups with individuals who nudge each other more or less in the right direction. So let’s stop pretending that gentle persuasion is some kind of evil and accept it as an inclination we all share.
I’m not saying that you should nag, manipulate or coerce others to share your beliefs. I am saying that you should respectfully offer the beneficial aspects of your life to those around you. The recipients are then free to accept or reject your offers. If there is a religious principle, a beloved activity or an alternative perspective that is working for you, share it without hesitation.