“Changing Hearts and Minds”

by Antonio Dias

Yesterday’s irony – intentional or otherwise – becomes today’s platitude.

How is it that this one still has legs?

How do we simply “forget” this phrase’s origins?

When asked why the US military was bombing the shit out of Vietnam, the response, probably penned by a sweaty, beady eyed CIA operative, was “To change hearts and minds.”

It was an obscene joke. The arrogance, the “I don’t give a f…! what anyone thinks of what we’re doing!” behind it towered over a decade.

Yet now, with all faux sincerity – sincerity requires we examine our assumptions not just treat them as privileged havens of retreat – people of many convictions talk about “Changing hearts and minds” as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Want to know why we stay trapped? This is why. We internalize the violence and blind ourselves to its implications.

“But! Really! I just want to convince people! You know, change hearts and minds!”

That’s not how it works. It never has. The ones who first used this perverse construction were fully aware of that. While busy exterminating anyone who disagreed with them, they called that effort, “changing hearts and minds.”

When we forget that, we sink that much deeper into the morass where language is devalued, and any familiarity with what truth feels like is lost.

“But aren’t you attempting the same thing now?”

No.

No one can “Change hearts.”

No one can “change minds.”

We each have a path. We each respond to what we see in the ways we can see them. No one sees himself as a tyrant. No one sees herself as a “bad person.”

Efforts to change hearts and minds therefore are premised on a lie. The lie that life is a negotiation and that reason is the currency. Efforts based on lies are incoherent. They only make matters worse.

We have various capacities to communicate. We have various experiences and varying conditioning, and varying responses to both.

Acting as witness to what and how we have found life to be may be of use to others. If they have reached a point of contact with what we are talking about already.

Communication is not a stick. It is not something pushed onto others. As we discussed the other day, perception is predictive. We are unable to see or hear what we are not prepared to find. Communication reaches out from the recipient, not the speaker. It is a drawing in of input not a broadcasting of output.

The only heart and mind we can effect change in is our own. To begin, let’s drop the foolishness of pushing change onto others.