A naïve or inexperienced activist would handle the situation in the previous chapter by telling his customer, “Oh, just go ahead and vote Democratic! It’s not such a big deal. In fact, it’s easy! I do it all the time, and my folks are Republicans, too!”
But we already know why many people have trouble switching political parties, joining a union or making some other important change: change is hard and often painful. Even a seemingly benign act like voting for a Democratic candidate can be fraught with danger. It could, for example, be perceived as a betrayal of one’s family or community. (Recall, from Chapter 7, the violent reaction of Mississippian Rhonda Nix’s neighbors to her public declaration that she would be voting Democratic.) Or, it could be perceived as the first step down a slippery slope where the customer will be forced to painfully confront many of his long-held and cherished convictions, as well as many of his past actions.
Can you imagine John Robbins telling his pig farmer, “Oh, come on, it’s easy to stop slaughtering pigs! Just give it a try.” Or Henry Spira, talking to his vivisectionists, “Oh, come on, just come up with an alternative to the animal experiments. It’s easy!” Of course not. And can you imagine what the result would have been if they had said those things?
The minute you start thinking that the action you’re asking someone to take is easy, you’re demonstrating a lack of empathy and compassion for that person that will almost certainly cost you the sale. In contrast, when you mirror someone’s emotional truth by telling them, either explicitly or implicitly, “I understand how difficult this change must be for you, and I respect how brave you are for even considering it,” you are in essence standing up with them against their fears. With your empathy and compassion, as well as other forms of support, they might well succeed at winning out over their fears and making the change you wish.