The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Make a Friend, Change a Mind

What is the best way to sell people on the idea of liberty? Many of us have debated that for years. Some suggest through a political party, others support a think tank. Some write books or publish magazines

All the above work to one degree or another. But do institutional solutions work best when it comes to selling freedom? I suspect there is a better alternative.

How do religions and cults find new members?

It’s really simple in fact. Most converts to a church are people who are befriended by current members of the church. The friendship is not necessarily created for the purpose of conversion but conversion is often the result. People listen to their friends. Of course, cults know this and falsely befriend people in order to convert them. They call it “love bombing.”

A stranger knocking at the door is often seen as a nuisance. Unwanted brochures are usually trashed. Political magazines are not widely read. Television commercials are often ignored. These methods still have their place but they only succeed by hitting lots of people at once. A small success ratio out of a large pool can still yield sufficient results.

It is that one-to-one level of understanding that is most effective. And when I think back to most the people I know who changed their political views because of me it was almost always through one-to-one contact and friendship. A few read my books, some read my articles or essays. But the majority of “converts” came from people who were friends.

When many libertarians and classical liberals try to recruit people they fail. When they don’t try they succeed. The successes often come from people they work with, go to school with, neighbors, etc. The failures are the unknown masses they try to recruit.

If you want to make converts first make friends. But please be sincere about it. If the only reason you are being friendly and kind is to win converts, don’t bother. Friendly people are more effective communicators. This is one reason some libertarians are such failures. They are miserable and unhappy, unpleasant people. They don’t befriend as much as they alienate. Some even assume failure is a mark of their moral purity. That they are rejected proves they are right. It more likely proves they are obnoxious.

I remember years ago Karl Hess talking about simply being a good neighbour. That will do it. Make a friend first and he will listen when you talk about politics in the future.

Many of the more strident libertarians withdraw from social groups, some even look down upon them. Many talk a voluntary society but never volunteer for anything. They are alienated from their neighbors, from their families, from their fellow workers, from just about everyone. The result is they are unable to communicate liberty.

If they have friends they restrict themselves only to those individuals who already agree with them. That means they either preach to the choir or they sit around confirming to each other how awful the world has become. Neither is productive, neither changes the world in which they live.

If I had one recommendation to a libertarian wanting to spread the message of freedom it would be stop trying. Take a bit of time to get involved with other people. Make friends who don’t already share your ideas. Volunteer with some worthwhile group. Join the neighborhood association. Meet people. Get to know them. Learn about their life.

If a neighbor needs a hand be there. If the school needs some help give it. You’ll be surprised how often issues of politics are raised by other people. And when you do offer an opinion you aren’t just some political solicitor preaching to unwilling participants. Instead you’ll be their friend, someone they know and like and trust. You’ll be someone who has proven his good intentions with them. And they’ll listen.

The way to change the country is one mind at a time. The way to change a mind is to become a friend first. I’m not suggesting that you stop using other methods. They work too. But the success rate is much higher with people who trust you than with total strangers. Being a good neighbor is a good way of showing people a free society can work, is benevolent, and caring.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.