Using Empathy to Craft the Message

Today while reading Thomas Friedman’s post entitled, Clinton’s Fibs, and Her Opponents’ Double Whoppers, I was struck by an assignment for students to tackle. While I respect Mr. Friedman, the idea came from one of the 488 comments that the article generated. The majority of the commenters were either in favor or against Friedman’s position.

It was Clement Kwong’s comment that really challenged me.

“That point is – it’s not about Trump or his obvious fallacies. The outrage and indignation at his comments should not be directed through media channels that are currently being used to do so, nor in the form (your article exemplary thereof) that these reactions are being communicated. To have any significant impact on Trump’s supporters, any message revealing his lies, idiocy, mean-ness, ignorance should be sent through channels which reach such supporters and in a form which can appeal to their social attitudes, language ability and literacy, preferably without demeaning their social status.

That language that you write in, this newspaper you express yourself in, even the complexity of the ideas, however warranted, in the message that is this article completely miss the mark. In this paper, you largely preach to the converted, as a Catholic priest might have done so in Latin in the medieval era.

Wake up. Find a way to say you want to say to the people who should hear this message. This is not it.”

There seems to be quite a bit of shouting going on in politics right now and most of the arguments are missing the mark with opponents. Since working at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School I’ve learned a ton about design thinking and the importance of using empathy in the process. The design thinking process can be very effective when teaching students to craft arguments that are targeted to a certain audience. Instead of totally disregarding the opponent, what if we taught them to study them to learn more about what is important to them? Through the DEEP DT process, students can produce more effective means of communication to sway their audience.

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I can imagine how powerful the interviews that students will conduct will be. They will truly gain a better understanding of the other person’s views and then tailor their argument based on this knowledge.

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