August 13, 2009
How to Influence a Liberal (But Not a Lunatic)
By Robin of Berkeley

My Open Letter to Liberals sparked some concerns from readers that I had returned to the warm embrace of Mr. Rogers. Several kind souls even offered to spirit me away to safer pastures, sort of like a conservative witness protection program.

I can understand why it might have looked like I relapsed, perhaps by inhaling too much medical marijuana. But truly, there's a method to my madness.

I get it; evil exists, and it's running rampant all over the country and spreading like wildfire. The meanest, most sociopathic fringes of the far left have been set loose, like rabid beasts unleashed from a cage, and they're sinking their diseased fangs into conservatives. And there's more people foaming at the mouth every day.

But this is part of the Left's plan: Keep conservatives so agitated that we can't tell the nice liberals from the maniacs. There's a term for it in psychotherapy: hypervigilance, and it's associated with trauma. I don't know about you, but the constant cruelty, combined with the real threat of communism, is making me feel pretty traumatized these days.

But it's a particularly maniacal method that commies use: set their dogs on us so we feel persecuted (because -- hello? -- we are being persecuted). Then discredit, ridicule, and label us "paranoid." It's sick, it's vicious, and it's all part of their game plan.

So I'm not writing for the brain dead and the possessed. I deal with them sparingly and only for a darn good fee for a 50 minute hour.

But there have got to be others out there like me, with the potential to see the light. Yes, there are countless subhumans, but their mouths are bigger than their numbers. I was heartened that there were even two thoughtful liberals among the postings to my Open Letter. While I didn't necessarily agree with their views, I was pleased they were tuning in to AT, and that they were expressing themselves respectfully.

I'm reaching out to those liberals who haven't lost their marbles yet. So I want to roll out the welcome mat to: Hillary supporters and other Democrats who chose Obama as their second choice; conservatives who punished Republicans but didn't bargain on Marxism; Ron Paul supporters who are looking for safe harbor; centrists who voted for Obama but are alarmed by the extreme left turn; and Obama supporters who liked him but now are having buyer's remorse.

As a therapist, I foster change. So I'm trying out in the cyberworld what helps my clients. For instance, here are some techniques:

1. Tailoring my words to the audience. I used a phrase like trauma in my open letter because that's a word on liberals' radar.

2. Engaging people: If I make them feel comfortable via empathy, they may stay awhile and start listening.

3. Zooming in on common bonds: I referred to experiences that unite all people, such as the search for happiness and our mortality.

4. Acting in unexpected ways: Liberals assume I'll be all snarky. If I'm not like this, it's harder for them to dismiss me.

5. Externalizing the problem: This is a handy technique borrowed from narrative therapy. If people don't feel blamed, they're more likely to change. So in my piece, I cited big government as our common foe, rather than point fingers at Obama and the Democrats.

6. Cultivate doubt: Spot the vulnerability and plant seeds of uncertainty. As an example, I was speaking to a colleague who depends on health insurance for his private practice. I expressed skepticism that ObamaCare will keep paying for therapy. (The look on his face: priceless.) Creating doubt can be as simple as a mystified look or a well placed "Really," as in, "Oh, you still believe in Obama's stimulus plan. Really?"

Another handy trick: instill doubt by making people feel separate, isolated. We are pack animals and most of us don't like to feel alone in a crowd.

So when an acquaintance made a nasty crack about Palin, I looked puzzled, then said, "Oh, you don't like her? I do." When she recovered from shock, she sputtered, "I don't know anyone who likes her." I answered, again appearing bewildered, as though I'd never heard an anti-Sarah crack in all my life, "Really? Everyone I know respects her. Did you know that she's one of the few successful women politicians who got there on her own?" To her credit, she backed off and apologized (Yay! There's at least one liberal out there who is operating on all cylinders!)

6. Storytelling: This is a great technique culled from the master hypnotherapist, Milton Erikson. (There's much talk that the left has used hypnosis on us for decades, so it's time we get in on the game.) Erikson would subtly influence his clients through subliminal methods like storytelling. Rather than confront a client's defenses, he'd meander in and out of their unconscious, like a graceful ballerina. For instance, with his son who suffered from a chronic illness, he'd tell stories about a hardy tree outside his son's window, using the tree as a metaphor for overcoming great adversity.

So, here's how I used it with a friend who was waxing rhapsodic about Obama's stimulus bill. Rather than challenge her, which would have started a no-win argument, I listened, then we chatted about something else, and then I said the following:

I've been thinking a lot about my parents; they died four years ago this month. I didn't appreciate them much as a kid, but now I really do. It blows me away how my grandparents arrived here from Tsarist Russia dirt poor to only face horrendous prejudice and poverty. But they literally kissed the ground when they got off the boat at Ellis Island. There was no government assistance back then. The Jews helped each other, just as all the immigrants did.

My grandparents raised their children in conditions that would be considered impoverished today but they never complained. My parents were also so grateful for the little they had, and they just loved this country. Sometimes I feel so ashamed of later generations. We have light years more than they ever did, and yet we always want more; we never say thanks. I wish my parents were around so I can tell how grateful I am to them and the sacrifices they made.

Then, as I observed my friend's utter incredulity and confusion, I changed the subject.

Think subtlety won't do the trick? The Left has managed to put half the country in a mass hypnotic trance using these strategies.

7. Last but not least: Allowing people to safe face. People will not change if they feel stupid or ashamed, even if the truth smacks them in the face. Robert McNamara elucidates this principle in the documentary, The Fog of War. According to him, the planet was saved because JFK permitted Khrushchev to remove missiles from Cuba on his own volition, thereby preserving Khrushchev's image.

For instance, if I say, "What in the world made you vote for Obama? Didn't you see all the warning signs," the person will get defensive and dig in his or her heels. But if instead I remark, "I think the media has been negligent in giving us the honest facts about Obama," or, "I remember voting for so and so and being sorry about it afterwards," then you help them save face.

So these are some of my therapeutic trade secrets. Is it a pipe dream to think I can sway a wavering liberal? Perhaps.

But I keep reflecting on a story about Suzuki Roshi, a beloved Buddhist teacher in the 60's. He was giving a talk and declared, "Life is impossible." A student raised his hand and asked, "If life is impossible, how do we do it?" Suzuki responded, "You do it every day.'"

So I'll keep trying to make a difference even if it sometimes feels utterly futile and impossible. But that's what the hoodlums want us to believe, isn't it?

A frequent AT contributor, Robin is a recovering liberal and a psychotherapist in Berkeley.