Lily pad ideas can actually change people's minds

Last week's essay was popular.

It attracted hundreds of new people to the site in just a few days, and people engaged in conversations about whether or not our culture values and promotes intelligence as the supreme good.

It struck a chord. Recent advances in technology demand that we bring ethics and philosophy to the forefront.

Yet, despite achieving exactly what I had aimed for, I was presented with another challenge.

Someone I respect said that my latest essay only contained, I quote, "lily pad ideas." I don't know if this is an actual expression or if he made it up on the fly, but it was crystal clear. He thought I stayed too much on the surface of things.

He suggested that I should have written a longer essay, developed the ideas further, and supported my claims with data or facts.

To be fair, his remark didn't come as a shock. He is a great thinker and has spent a lot of time writing complex, intricate, historically rooted essays. His goal was always to influence people politically by appealing to their reason.

In the past, I have challenged him by suggesting that his pieces would benefit from being shorter and simpler. To no avail.

Long argument essays are essential for explaining complex, multi-faceted ideas.

If I want to learn more about a topic, say NFTs, quantitative easing, or class conflict, I will most certainly be interested and read longer writings on the topic. Likewise, if I already have an interest or a conviction, I'm more likely to read a book or a 5,000-word article to confirm my thoughts.

But how often do people read long-form, researched content that goes AGAINST their existing opinion? The answer is almost never.

And will they read a long piece as an introduction to a topic they don't yet have an opinion on? Some people will, yes, but few of them.

Furthermore, as much as we like the idea of thinking that we can convince people with a long, logical argument, the reality is that mainly two things are responsible for changing people's minds:

  1. Their own experience of the world. Not factually, but as they remember and choose to interpret the event that has happened to them (strongest influence) or someone they know (lesser influence).
  2. Stories or punchlines that ring true.

These two go hand in hand. Our own experience of the world is always subjective and subject to a narrative interpretation.

Ok. Now, let's go back to defending the style that I've chosen for these essays.

While some of my essays include stories to illustrate the core point, I don't write stories per se. However, I try to find important ideas and write what I call a can opener essay about them.

A can opener essay opens the ravioli can, but it doesn't pour it on your plate when you didn't ask for it. It's an invitation to reflect on an idea and attach your own thoughts to it.

Many times, people shared that they had been thinking about the exact topic of my weekly essay and that it helped them process their thoughts further.

Perfect. That's precisely what I desire. By reading my essays, people will recognize half-formed ideas in the back of their heads and resume thinking about them.

For that to happen, my writing needs to be accessible. It needs to seem simple and easy to jump in.

It can be prescriptive at times, but it needs to contain anchor points. People should be able to ignore my conclusion and decide to grip onto the holds that my essays provide to help them reach their own conclusions.

These "holds" are some of the sentences that I include in my essays. They are attempts at expressing ideas through aphorisms or simple sentences that you can take away. In last week's essay, one of the holds was the essay's title: "The devil is intelligence without love."

Statements like these are what people remember. They bring these statements with them and mull over long after reading the article or book. Because of their sticky nature, they are more likely to change someone's mind. They get stuck in your head and blend with your own thoughts and experiences.

And once in a while, you end up changed by what seemed, at first, like a lily pad.