There have been some occasions in my life when I have found “playing dumb” to be useful. A it turns out, my approach might not be as dumb as it sounds. More on that in a minute.
Anyone who is at all active on Facebook knows that some pretty ridiculous posts often appear—posts that express outrage and ask us to re-post them so that the rest of the Facebook world will be outraged as well. It is frustrating to read some of these when even a moment’s reflection and a teensy bit of logic demonstrate them to be false.
One that appeared recently was a request to boycott Pepsi because the company’s new cans were printing the Pledge of Allegiance with a picture of the Empire State Building, but leaving out the words “under God.”
Come on now. Really? A company whose business is to sell stuff to the public would choose to offend a hefty percentage of that public by leaving out “under God”? I seriously doubted it. I decided to go to Snopes.com to check it out.
The truth? Fourteen years ago, after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, Dr. Pepper, not Pepsi, printed a can picturing the Statue of Liberty under the words “One nation…indivisible.” So, yes, they left out the words “under God,” but they also left out the other 28 words in the Pledge. And the point was that they were demonstrating patriotism and unity, not undercutting religion.
In the probably futile approach that I often use to prevent the spread of nonsense, I commented that the post was untrue and gave a link to the Snopes.com entry. The person who posted the piece would have none of it. “Snopes has lied to me before,” he said. He wanted to be outraged. Facts didn't matter.
So back to playing dumb. A few times in my life, when confronted with something ridiculous, I have adopted a neutral attitude and asked questions about why the people believed as they did. In a sense, I played dumb. Instead of becoming defensive or arguing, the people often seemed surprised that I was actually listening—which I was. In several cases, they actually seemed to soften their position and become a bit more reasonable as we talked.
A number of studies point out that providing evidence that they are wrong actually makes people less likely to change their position. Their belief becomes even stronger in the face of evidence to the contrary. An interesting YouTube video based on information from some of the studies points out that the best way to have people examine their position is to ask them to explain that position in detail. Often we think we know a lot about something but when pressed for details discover that we don’t. Being asked for details can sometimes help a person see that they might need more information.
So maybe a better approach to the Pepsi guy, instead of pointing out that he was wrong, might have been for me to play dumb and ask some questions, like “Wow. Where did you see this can? I haven’t seen one. Can you send me a picture?” Or “When did you buy one of these cans?” or “I wonder why Pepsi would do something like that. What do you think?”
Or maybe I should have just clicked “hide” and ignored the guy. Who knows?