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“Dealing with” People Who Believe in Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories

Dear Ryan,

How do you deal with people who have not just a different opinion, but a dangerous one? I’m referring to those who believe in conspiracy theories or other misinformation about Covid-19. Their opinions lead to behavior that puts others at risk.

Signed,
Conspiracy Consternation

Dear Conspiracy Consternation,

I will address your question as it relates to beliefs, not behavior.

I’d like to begin by pointing out that you and those who you say believe in conspiracy theories have something in common: you both believe each other is dangerously misinformed.

This should cause you to pause. If it doesn’t—if you’re offended, or if you think that those who hold these opinions are wrong to believe you are misinformed—then you are part of the problem. You’re contributing to your own inability to “deal with,” as you put it, people who have a different opinion.

I’m speaking directly because I wish someone had been as direct with me when I needed. Recognizing your own contribution here will empower you to make a difference. So, wrestle with it if you must, but know that the sooner you take responsibility for your present challenge, the sooner you’ll be able to meaningfully converse with those of a different persuasion.

A point of clarification: I’m not defending dangerous beliefs or behavior. I’m not suggesting that every viewpoint is equally justified, that merely holding a perspective makes it rational or valid, or that one’s behavior is excusable because he or she believes it is. What I am suggesting is this: regardless of what the facts are or the truth is or whose opinion is more carefully developed or less dangerous, you will not be able to disagree meaningfully until you decide to own the problem.

Once you do that, look for common ground. I’ve already pointed out one belief you hold in common: the “other” is dangerously misinformed. I bet if you dig behind it you’ll find several common values—values of justice, truth, freedom, and safety.

And that is highly curious, don’t you think? You are in company with those who want to preserve similar if not the same values, and yet you find yourself at odds. So, get curious. You have a genuine marvel to investigate. Suspend any desire to instruct others in their beliefs and adopt instead the spirit of inquiry.

And be kind. Nothing has an equivalent power to deescalate a disagreement as genuine kindness. If you don’t feel kind, examine your opinions and see which are contributing. Then disarm yourself. Beliefs per se cannot harm you, they don’t always correspond to the behaviors we think they will, and judging another’s as dangerous doesn’t necessarily make them so. So, take courage and be willing to set yours aside as you explore those contrary to your own.

In short, make common ground your target, and kindness and curiosity your tools. In practice, that might look like this: “I gather that you and I have very different beliefs about Covid-19 and I’m curious to know what you think and how you came to your position. Would you be willing to talk? I also don’t want to argue. I’m genuinely curious and want to understand where you’re coming from.” Then listen, ask questions, highlight when you agree or sympathize with a position.

This simple formula—kindness, curiosity, common ground—will help you establish psychological safety. Once it’s clear you have safety, you can begin to disagree meaningfully. And it will be clear when you’ve established safety because you’ll begin to notice empathy and understanding instead of fear, disgust, or distrust. You might continue, “That’s interesting. I see it differently. Do you mind if I share my perspective? Tell me what you think about this.” If safety is threatened as you disagree—if parties get defensive or combative—come back to kindness, curiosity, common ground. This is the beginning of dialogue.

This approach, by the way, does not preclude you from being direct in your disagreement; it enables you to be so. You can be kind and curious and straightforward.

Our particular challenge today is that we live in era of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” “disinformation,” and conspiracy theories—an era that is called “post-truth”—and yet we fight each other with facts, or what we believe are facts. This is like firing cannonballs at each other in a gravitational vacuum: the weapon has no weight. Those who watch “fake news” don’t consider their news fake, and those who believe in so-called conspiracy theories don’t think they believe in “theories.” We will not reach each other with facts unless and until we reach out to each other.

Now, as simple as that is to read, I recognize the difficulty of doing what I’m suggesting. And yet I’m confident you can do it. Pick a case, put your trust in the principles I’ve outlined, and tread lightly but assuredly. I can attest to their efficacy. Like others I know, I’ve been able to use these ideas to disagree in a way that increased appreciation and respect for opposing viewpoints and the people who hold them. You can do likewise.

I hope this helps as you consider approaching people about their beliefs. But you also raised a point about behavior, and that is another matter. If you encounter dangerous behavior, please report it. Or speak up directly if it’s safe to do so. For tips on how to do that, check out this 90-second video from Joseph Grenny.

Good luck,
Ryan

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70 thoughts on ““Dealing with” People Who Believe in Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories”

  1. FEli

    Will be correct to apply the same approach for people who believe the elections were stole?

    1. Jan Losh

      FEli, If you read and heard the point of the article, you might have observed, “this will also work on individuals who disagree on the validity of the recent presidential election.” Instead, your question tipped your hand that you are part of the problem.

      1. Chris P.

        Was the article edited? Because I don’t see that statement anymore. At any rate, I do agree that this would work on such a situation and any of these topics that are coming up these days.

  2. Tim Jones

    It is understandable that people would have a degree of distrust in the government and the information that they communicate since there are a number of documented cases of the Federal Government using American (and other countries’) citizens as the proverbial ‘guinea pig’. One of the major ones that comes to mind is the release of radiation primarily in a low-income neighborhood in St. Louis during the 1950’s. When you combine this level of distrust with the mixed and changing messages that come from different government officials and entities, it lays the groundwork for conspiracy theories.

    1. Tim, as a black female who grew up in Birmingham, AL in the 1960’s, I deeply appreciate your acknowledgement that there are reasons for some to have mistrust of the government. For me, I don’t forget, but I try not to dwell on that history. I’m a healthcare worker. I’m a travel nurse. Having traveled all over the US, I have encountered a lot of “regional attitudes.” I have witnessed so many deaths. I subscribe to the theory of doing what is best for most, instead of doing what is best for me (in terms of COVID). So, I wear my mask, I got vaccinated, I continue to practice social distancing, I wash my hands A LOT, and I keep abreast of the latest information. I try to pass on information from reliable sources, without trying to influence anyone or change their minds; just give them more to think about. With the death tool quickly approaching half a million people, it’s hard for me to understand how anyone can still think that COVID is a hoax. But hey, to each their own!

      1. Julinda

        Karla, awesome outlook. Yes, that’s the best, provide “information from reliable sources, without trying to influence anyone or change their minds; just give them more to think about.” I’m going to keep that in mind. Sometimes it’s hard not to try to change their minds, though!

        1. My experience shows me there is no such thing as a reliable source. I believe we are obliged to look at as much information relevant to the subject to work out the truth as best we can and we certainly cannot restrict ourselves to mainstream media to do that. We are very much obliged to apply our own critical thinking skills – we simply cannot rely on any particular source.

          My experience also is that you can provide all the evidence you want and it will not change people’s minds regardless. My experience shows that we tend to divide into certain types of believers:

          — Those who believe everything from authority regardless

          — Those who disbelieve everything from authority regardless

          — Those in between who will tend to believe certain things and not others, however, those in between do not necessarily judge by the evidence but, often, the size of the lie told – if the lie is “small” enough so to speak they will recognise it as a lie but if it is massive, the size and audacity of the lie is too great for them to comprehend. The Big Lie is recognised as a phenomenon. Hitler famously speaks of it in Mein Kampf, blaming it, unsurprisingly, on the Jews while Goebbels blamed it on the English. They all blame it on each other however, the Big Lie has been told to us for centuries if not millennia by all power elites across the globe.

          The Big Lie
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_lie

          I don’t regard myself as a type of “believer”, I regard myself as one of the relatively few who is always open to the evidence regardless. I recognise the astonishing achievement of the moon landings despite the fact that one could easily argue against that achievement because of the seeming implausibility of it having been accomplished so long ago when our technology was much less advanced and without it being repeated so far. Yes, the technology was much less advanced nevertheless the evidence clearly shows that whatever level of advancement it was sufficient to get those amazing astronauts to the moon and back. It pains me that a reasonably-sized minority of people don’t recognise that astounding achievement, it really does. Equally, it pains me that people are immune to seeing the Big Lies told to us for the same reason – seeming implausibility.

          The article, Phantom Virus: In search of Sars-CoV-2, (https://off-guardian.org/2021/01/31/phantom-virus-in-search-of-sars-cov-2/) makes extremely heretical claims with regard to the pandemic, extremely heretical. Nevertheless the claims are backed by compelling evidence. Not only that I’ve approached six fact-checking websites and asked them for a response to this article – no reply. I’ve also emailed Dr Ian Mackay who has a website http://www.virologydownunder.com singing the praises of the PCR test for a response to the article (earlier I asked him for a response to the authors’ previous article, COVID19 PCR Tests are Scientifically Meaningless, https://off-guardian.org/2020/06/27/covid19-pcr-tests-are-scientifically-meaningless/ published in June last year) – no reply to my request then either.

          The fact-checking websites I’ve approached are:

          PolitiFact – PolitiFact issued a debunking of the authors’ previous article mentioned in paragraph above to which the authors’ issued a rebuttal. This rebuttal was not responded to by PolitiFact. Even a lay person can see the problems with the alleged debunking, eg, article claims that the CDC website indicates that COVID-19 does not have a distinctive set of symptoms. When you look at how the symptoms are presented, however, it is very obvious that there is no distinctive set of symptoms.

          BBC Reality Check

          RMIT ABC Fact Check

          Facta.news (Italian) – Facta issued a debunking of the work of Dr Stefano Scoglio, one of the authors of the Phantom virus article to which he issued a rebuttal. Facta did not respond to this rebuttal.

          FactCheck.org

          sciencemag.org

          What is very, very important is to:
          — Make facts mean what they must mean.
          — Not make facts mean what they don’t mean – and, of course, to ensure that what you regard as a fact really is a fact.

          It is the work of fact-checking groups to check the factual nature of claims. If a heresy appears written by people obviously authoritative on the subject at hand then the clear, incontrovertible fact that the fact-checkers have demurred from responding to that heresy massively supports the credibility of the heresy … and then, of course, we can examine what the heretics say for ourselves.

          Notice I use the terms heresy/tic not conspiracy theory/ist. We recognise heretics from the past as often (certainly not always but often) being the people who had it right, no? Now we use the terms “conspiracy theory/ist” as a way of denigrating people who speak against the mainstream view. In the past the term heresy/tic had the same function of denigration although now we see the heresies and heretics differently. In the future it may be that people will recognise the current terms of denigration as not necessarily being accurate and so a new term will be introduced.

          I’m not sure what to suggest because it seems to be that people will believe so much more according to their inclinations rather than the evidence. For some, to come out against something that is pushed at us 24/7 and has all the weight of authority behind it is simply too big a step to take regardless of what the evidence says. It feels wrong to them and I understand that. I was brought up to never accept what authority says just because it says it so I don’t have a problem with coming out against the mainstream view – it was my upbringing and I think part of my nature as well. Of course, we live in times where you will not get thrown in jail for your views (at least in certain countries) so to me there’s simply no problem in speaking out. For others’ it makes them feel too vulnerable and I understand that.

          It drives me absolutely nuts though that regardless of what side of the conspiracy fence people are on they can be utterly immune to the evidence and believe that arguments for what they believe qualify as valid arguments when they clearly don’t, eg, if we’d gone to the moon we would have gone again, which is a logical fallacy of the type, argumentum ad speculum or Hypothesis Contrary to Fact. The evidence will show regardless of whether we’ve gone again or not if we went in 1969-72 … and it clearly shows we did – or rather some amazing astronauts did with the help of lots of other amazing people.

      2. Dear Karla, I appreciate your respectful recognition that a minority of us have valid concerns about health care. Our younger son was born in the Charity clinic of Vanderbilt hospital, one of the country’s most reputable teaching hospitals. I learned onair decades later it was successfully sued for giving 829 unsuspecting pregnant mothers radioactive iron pills in the late 1940’s to study the effects! It’s true that many Republicans believe COVID is a total hoax, but it’s also true that a smaller minority of us believe it’s a manufactured construct invented as part of the Depart. of Defense’s arsenal of gain of function biological weapons, which Fauci has headed since the early 1990’s. I believe he also is one of the patent holders, which I would believe is a conflict of interest.

        1. Karla, From Day One I predicted that the science would show there was no “novel” coronavirus and when the scientific evidence emerged it was clear there wasn’t one. One strategy employed to suppress voices who do not accept what what the authorities tell us is to fragment opinion among us. If we all believed the same thing in unison it would be much more powerful but when we all believe different things it weakens us.

          Dr Sam Bailey is a medical doctor whose first claim to fame was being the first person to set up a telehealth service (SwiftMed) in New Zealand although I believe she no longer runs that service.
          https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/tv-radio/tv-guide/114100417/the-checkups-dr-samantha-bailey-on-the-pros-and-cons-of-online-consultations

          You can see she’s very well regarded by her patients:
          https://www.trustpilot.com/review/swiftmed.co.nz

          Sam has been putting out videos on health on YouTube for a couple of years and when “COVID” struck she branched out and started posting analysis that refutes what are being told by media and government. She is also one of four co-authors of the highly recommended book, Virus Mania.

          Her latest video is an excellent analysis exposing the scientific fraud conducted to create the alleged pandemic.
          https://odysee.com/@drsambailey:c/Once-Upon-A-Time-in-Wuhan-Odysee-Exclusive-Comp:2

    2. Equally, if we know conspiracies have happened in the past why would we believe they wouldn’t happen again? Why would the claim of a conspiracy only ever be in the realm of theory?

  3. P Manley

    I wanted to post this on Facebook, but I knew the title alone will prevent those that do believe in conspiracy theories to stop reading immediately. I wish the title was neutral. Good article.

    1. I read it and I accept the phenomenon of conspiracies. I’m much more interested in conspiracies where the evidence of them is clear rather than those where significant information is not available (or, at least, not without serious research) and we need to theorise about them.

  4. Jane

    This is such EXCELLENT advice. Well done.

    1. Len

      I agree with you on that comment. Thank you.

  5. This is an EXCELLENT response to this question.

  6. Jalene Palmer

    “Dealing with” People Who Believe in Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories – really good article, unfortunate title.

    1. Len

      Yes, Title should be reconsidered!!!

  7. Jeanne Lay

    I read with interest the Crucial Conversation response on the topic of conspiracy theories. The thoughts presented in the response make me wonder: how broad and deep is the reach of Crucial Conversations? What corporate and political entities take advantage of these services? There is so much common ground to be reached, if we could dissect it, start with kindness, and aspire to define and work toward common goals.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Good question, Jeanne. I think we service more organizations in government, both state and federal, than in any other sector. So, we’ve reached a lot, and we hope to continue to reach more.

  8. Meagan

    Ryan, I cannot stress how refreshing it was to read this today! Today more than ever, we NEED these direct statements and to learn to find middle ground regardless of our feelings. Thank you.

  9. Conspiracy theory?? We’ve been told, masks work, masks have no impact, wear three or more masks, etc. Who wouldn’t be skeptical, especially from a government filled with fraud and mistrust!

    1. In my opinion, the COVID response changed over time. What was said in month 1 may not be appropriate in month 12. They used to say the Earth was flat, but that statement changed over time. My thought would be to listen to what the scientists are saying today, not a year ago.

    2. Julinda

      Roger – It does get confusing! The 3 basic things (wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining distance) have remained pretty consistent, except for early on when experts were still trying to wrap their heads around it, so I focus on those. I know we’ll all be glad when the pandemic is over.

  10. Chris P.

    Thank you for the example of how to start such a conversation. Interestingly I’m probably on the other side of the coin as Conspiracy Consternation and I think the approach you laid out is good for all of us.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      This is music to my ears, Chris. This is what I’d hoped for.

  11. Jeff

    Great topic, great answer. I have seen a handful of relationships getting destroyed because of this very conversation. It is saddening that the wedge between opposing sides has gotten so powerful. We have to weaken that wedge and the curiosity tool Ryan references is a great weapon choice to break that wedge. Would like to know more about recognizing when the opposition feels “safe” enough to converse. A lot of the people I talk to want to be heard, but, don’t want to listen.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Great question, Jeff. We cover this challenge in both the book and the course with a skill called “Learn to Look.” If you have a copy of Crucial Conversations, check out chapter 4.

  12. nancy winters

    Questionable title, but terrific article. Discussing today’s opposing opinions cannot only be for purposes of changing another’s opinion. But, as you wrote, it can/should lead to ‘increased appreciation and respect for opposing viewpoints.’ AND…hopefully…to finding that elusive middle ground.

  13. Margie

    This was excellent! I think at the heart of every argument there is some truth. Some information may not be validated but is still valid and should be considered and not automatically dismissed. I’m definitely learning lessons during COVID19.

  14. Colleen

    Misleading or questionable title. There is so much misinformation out there, and to trust only one or two news sources is dangerous. We need to be able to speak freely, share our opinions respectfully, without judgement or views being labelled as conspiracy theories. I think the goal is to be more inclusive with our conversations? If so, ditch the words “conspiracy theories” for a start.

  15. James Brown

    I agree with other commenters that we all need to work on being curious, finding common ground and establishing safety. I also agree that it’s difficult to find the “truth” amongst all those who are talking. But at some point we need to look at the sources of the information and realize that some of the information out there is not political and is not an opinion. If a politician is giving you a “fact” that’s very different then a “fact” supported by the vast majority of medical professionals who specialize in communicable diseases. We have to approach the conversation with care and understanding but at some point it’s not just an opinion.

    1. Chris P.

      Very true James. The only issue I have with the “facts” that science shares with us, is many times those facts change as we/they learn more. Also many times they preface or conclude their remarks with things like, “we have much more to learn” and “we don’t know everything about this” which leaves the door open for changes in the facts based on what has been observed. That’s why facts, while important are only one part of the story. There are known facts and then there is the unknown which can change the perspective of the known facts.

      1. Denise Bond

        I agree. There are very opposing points of few on the vaccine within the medical community bases on the scientific facts we have and the fact that there is still so much to learn. D.B

    2. Julinda

      James, I totally agree. It’s sad that increasingly, more than disagreeing about the best way to handle various situations, people are disagreeing about what is true. I think we need to spend time educating citizens (especially young people) on how to evaluate information to determine its reliability.

  16. Yilmaz Rona

    I thought the article on the whole made very excellent points, but skirted around a very crucial idea that I think should have been directly expressed; that there is a possibility that the writer is the one who is wrong, or that the conspiracy theorist knows something that the writer does not.   Or as Oliver Cromwell famously commanded,
    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
    Additionally, I thought the instruction to report “unsafe” behaviors was terribly wrong-headed.  I’ll share some anecdotes from two business managers/owners I know.  One has had to close all but one exit to his store because the health department demands it so that he can accurately keep count of how many people are in the store to ensure that he meets capacity limitations.  The other has been instructed to keep multiple exits open, so that customers have a dedicated entryway and exit.  These contradictory rules are all predicated on “safety”.  Both men have been reported to the health authority for violating these strictures and threatened by fines.  Yet, the rules are utterly contradictory.  The world would be better off if the owners were freed to decide for themselves how to set up their businesses in order to balance the risks to their customers against their business’ profitability, and to adjust their actions based on customer response and the knowledge gained from witnessing the outcomes of the decisions they, their neighbors, their competitors, etc have made. 
    Reporting people to the authorities for violating poorly formulated, ill-considered and often contradictory rules increases the fear and suspicion in our society rather than decreasing it.  It generates an emotional culture that hinders free and open conversation rather than fostering it.
    In my opinion, what constitutes safe and unsafe behavior is actually up to our individual judgement.  A lung cancer survivor who has only one lung may be less safe wearing a mask than walking around without one, and harassing him is just making his life even less bearable.  Or it’s possible that the health authorities have got mask-wearing totally wrong and by reporting scofflaws you are actually harassing the person who got it right and subjecting them to unjust ‘correction’ by the authorities.   That way we can more quickly figure out what are the optimal responses and measures to deal with the virus and learn what measures are ineffective or counterproductive.  
    A top-down monoculture where dissenters are punished is not one that finds optimal solutions; they are associated with suffering, poverty, and inefficiency.
    I do what I think is safe.  I respect my neighbors for doing what they think is safe.  I can try to persuade them to do things differently.  I can avoid situations where I think they are endangering me to a degree that I choose not to tolerate.   

    1. Very interesting example of the store owners. I think this is an excellent quote (edited) from British psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels aka Theodore Dalrymple

      ” … the purpose of propaganda is not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponds to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.”

      The edit is the removal of the world “communist” before the word propaganda. While Daniels applies it to communist propaganda I think it applies to much propaganda regardless of country or regime. In his actual quote you will see that what he says about propaganda he also applies to political correctness.
      https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/124952-political-correctness-is-communist-propaganda-writ-small-in-my-study

    2. Julinda

      Reporting unsafe behaviors (especially in the workplace) is not “wrong-headed.” In my workplace, we have all kinds of safety rules. They are there for a reason.

  17. Isaac Molina

    I read a great book CRUCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY and I know there are others in the collection from the same authors, one called CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS. Great tools to assist in this topic. If we believe the Laws of Humans include: Everyone Acts in their own self-interest; Everyone has different interests; Resources are limited so we must choose; The “system” that people operate in tends to drive behavior….than I think I absolutely agree, trying to find Mutual Purpose with kindness is critical to having these difficult conversations. The challenge occurs when values differ around what is harmful or disrespectful. It is really touch to have a conversation with someone who sees violence as an immediate solution, because they are dug into their beliefs.

    What are your suggestions for trying to peacefully engage with individuals who are adamant about their viewpoints and unwilling to even have conversations devoid of threats of violence? When their is hatred involved, what are good ways to possibly diffuse hatred?

    1. Julinda

      Depending on the situation, I think there are times when it is not worthwhile to have the conversations.

  18. Isaac Molina

    I’ve read Crucial Accountability. Amazing book! What ideas do people have about working to engage in peaceful constructive conversation with others wherever hatred exists? Facing hatred I believe can only be successful from a place of peace and kindness, however by what measures or boundaries do we operate from in order to prevent harm from taking place? This is a challenge.

  19. So how do we present the truth when the response is “that’s just fake news”? When I found out a relative was believing the political lies being spread in addition to the COVID conspiracy theories, my inclination and action was to ask what the issue was, what was their belief, and I had planned to research and provide facts to ponder. I also stated that maybe I, too, will find things that I should think about. Then the insurrection happened. When I learned this relative was a supporter of the riots and was despondent at the failure to reinstate the last president, I could not bring myself to be supportive or to make an effort to provide the truth to this person. I’m not sure, because I have found these people are not forthcoming with their true beliefs and won’t admit to generally socially unacceptable behavior, but I am guessing this person is less likely to be a racist, but is following religious extremist websites and YouTube videos that she recommended to me. She truly believes that Satan is now in the Whitehouse. It seems the only way to get the truth to be believed is for their beloved leaders to speak it. That is not going to happen. Not from the past president and not from these religious leaders, Republican lawmakers, or leaders of extremist groups that have other goals in mind. This is obviously dangerous. How does the truth get out and accepted by those who believe the lies? If not to accept the truth, but to at least accept the democratic peaceful process. How do we do that?

    1. I share your concerns. When there are “no facts”, then meaningful dialog to understand the truth is impossible.

      1. Ryan Trimble

        The concern about facts is central to my response: when facts are suspect, kindness, curiosity, and common ground carry even greater weight. They help us reach a place where we can begin to meaningfully discuss facts, even if that means first addressing different notions of what constitutes a fact or laying ground rules for parsing facts from fictions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll reach agreement or understanding, only that you have the opportunity to try. Hope that helps.

        1. Scott Jackson

          Hi Ryan, thank you for the excellent article!
          I see you have a degree in philosophy. Therefore, I figure you might have a “best practices” methodology to help ordinary citizens know what the objective truth is when a claim is made.
          Maybe it’s a series of questions that can asked to be help clarify what is known with certainty, and what is known with either high or low probability? Or what is just opinion, impression or speculation? I know Crucial Conversations dialogue goes a long way to help understanding and empathy (which we desperately need).
          I’m just really curious if some “Holy Grail” methodology exists that can help us know what the objective truth actually is. Or maybe at least help us to know what isn’t the objective truth.

          1. Ryan Trimble

            Hi Scott,

            Great question. Rather than attempt to answer your question, I will recommend a book: “Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking,” by D. Q. McInerny.

            The book outlines what a fact is, what a belief is, and how to judge whether a belief corresponds to a fact or set of facts, i.e. whether a belief is true. It also outlines best practices by illustrating what good thinking looks like and what bad or fallacious thinking looks like. And it highlights just how tricky it can be to think well.

            This is the simplest guidebook I know of and it’s 137 pages. Perhaps this is unfortunate. But when you consider that our exploration of truth as a subject and as a function of thinking could fill entire libraries, it’s quite an achievement. It’s also a delight to read and study.

          2. Scott Jackson

            Wonderful book recommendation! I started reading it on my Kindle today. It gives me plenty of study material. Thank you!

    2. Nichole

      Might I respectfully suggest that you read this article again. I’m not sure you’re understanding or applying the principles that he’s suggested.

  20. Micah

    Great advice. I was scared to read it with all the nonsense I’ve seen over the past year, but this can apply to everyone. If you can edit it, I would remove the word ‘political’ from the sentence, “… the sooner you’ll be able to meaningfully converse with those of a different political persuasion.” May help with the comments section and help make your point. Thank you Ryan!

    1. Julinda

      Yes! COVID-19 is not a political issue although it’s definitely affected by politics. I know people from various “political persuasions” who take the virus very seriously.

  21. It’s hard to have a conversation when people cannot agree on facts. When someone believes whatever they decide is a fact is just as valid as any experts, where is the common ground?

    For example, there are people who believe the earth is flat. They are teaching this to their kids. Some are dying (Mike Hughes, Feb. 2020) trying to prove the earth is flat. While it’s not a particular dangerous belief, it demonstrates the issue.

    https://physicsworld.com/a/fighting-flat-earth-theory/

  22. Maria l

    Winning them through education and active involvement

  23. “Conspiracy theory” is a loaded term. Surely, no one would deny that conspiracies occur and that explaining them will be on the basis of evidence, not theories.

    The Australian Department of Health has admitted – as have other health authorities – that they do not have on record documents showing the purification of alleged virus, SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, there is no scientific work showing a causal link between the alleged SARS-CoV-2 and the alleged virus illness, COVID-19, which, according to the CDC website does not have a distinctive set of symptoms.

    Right there you have a clearly-evidenced problem with scientific method, nothing to do with theory.

    Of course, if the very notion of the alleged COVID-19 pandemic being a fabrication is outside your paradigm of how the world works, the evidence will be meaningless. To accept what evidence tells you, you need to accept the possibility of its significance inside your framework of possible reality. It’s very difficult to accept something alien to what you believe is possible even if the evidence indicates it. For example, if someone told you they could fly you simply wouldn’t believe them, right? If they took off into the sky, you’d think a machine was aiding them (and, obviously, we absolutely know for a fact that humans cannot fly and a machine would have to be responsible). Similarly, if the notion of fabrication of the COVID-19 pandemic is utterly alien you will not believe it and your mind will simply ignore or somehow explain away the evidence presented to you. The thing is, can we know for a fact that fabricating such a pandemic is not possible?

    “A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat.

    When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.

    ​The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and unawaredly enslave themselves.”

    Donald James aka Dresden James
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_James

    1. Julinda

      You’re correct that COVID-19 symptoms overlap with other diseases. The same is true of most diseases, at least in early stages. Scientists look at many factors to identify and classify disease.

      1. I only saw your comment now, Julinda. The caveat, “at least in early stages” is important. COVID-19 does not have a distinctive set of symptoms period and nor is there a gold standard test for it (of course, a distinctive set of symptoms would function as a gold standard test). “Cases” are not clinically diagnosed, “cases” are simply people who’ve tested positive to the PCR test which is shown not to be a reliable test. So many more problems but I’ll leave it there.

  24. Some of the largest purveyors of conspiracy theories are the very people that are the so called experts that have been making claims about covid, when the data demonstrates the exact opposite. Might want to research more to ensure that you in fact are really the victim of someone’s opinion.

    https://www.cato.org/blog/how-one-model-simulated-22-million-us-deaths-covid-19

    https://rationalground.com/after-nine-months-we-still-know-masks-dont-work/

    1. I noticed on the rationalground website a story about a woman with Down syndrome, Franca Panettone, who we’re told died from COVID-19. Interesting surname, Panettone, as it refers to the bread-like cake traditionally served at Christmas time in Italy. The name derives from panetto meaning small loaf – so the morphology of the word consists of pane meaning bread followed by the diminutive “etto” (small) followed by the augmentative “one” (large). Panettone does strike me as an unusual surname, I have to say.

  25. It would be interesting to see the results of applying this advice.

  26. Mark Kennedy

    This is a great, simple model for any kind of situation where two people see things differently. I remember using this approach in a labor/management situation (after a colleague had exacerbated the situation by not using this approach to dialog) and getting a totally different, positive result. Creating a safe environment for conversation and genuinely listening are critical first steps to dialog. Yes, sometimes we end up acknowledging that we can’t agree on a matter but we can do so without hurting the relationship.

  27. Andy Kelly

    Good article.

  28. Julinda

    Excellent article, but I wish you had not used the term “political persuasion” as you did. COVID-19 is not a political issue, although it’s definitely affected by politics. I know people from various “political persuasions” who take the virus very seriously.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Great point, Julinda. Thank you.

  29. J

    Ryan, as much as I respect the general approach you are promoting, this is a dangerous topic for people to believe conspiracies about. We’re not talking about politics, 9-11, or belief in UFOs, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Covid kills. Entertaining false notions from those who are vulnerable and believe in conspiracy due to personal circumstance is life-and-death serious. Do you know anyone who has died from Covid? A lot of us do, including myself.

    I have a very intelligent sister who is a lawyer and founder of a reforestation non-profit for over 20 years, who lives in Central America in a community of ex-pats who are there to understandably escape Corporate America etc, who lives – alone – in a serious “dis-information bubble.” She believes the vaccine is a “depopulation vaccine” that has been designed by world governments to kill us. She wants to come visit us sans vaccine and mask. We have a 3-month old, and I am 50. No, she can’t visit. It’s not even a conversation.

    Please don’t accuse those of us who stand for scientific facts and common sense, and who won’t allow conspiracy to creep in and endanger us, as “close-minded.” A line has to be drawn somewhere. The well-being of my family is where I draw mine. I’m not sorry.

    Again, this isn’t politics or about other opinion-related topics. This is about serious health concerns, including a life-and-death disease that is fairly easily avoided. I truly don’t understand how anyone can condone entertaining dangerous conspiracy, especially someone like you with the bully pulpit in this case.

    In the “Post Truth” age it is important for reasonable, rational people to promote the truth.

    1. K.I.

      J, please don’t compare your sister to the rest of folks who believes in conspiracy theories. Each person is different and in their mind they have valid reasons to believe in what they are believing. As for COVID virus, I agree that it is scary to see people die. However virus mutates and often gets less potent. The long tern goal of a virus is to survive and multiply, not to kill the host. As of now there are sufficient test kits to test the if someone is COVID positive and there are plenty of meds. People die from flu, almost as much as from COVID. It is known fact that CDC changed their death counting guidelines from COVID that caused the overinflated death count. I forgot the exact number, but if deaths were to be counted using old system, America wouldn’t be the first one, like Hillary dared to joke.
      Again COVID is not a joke, but I think you’re overly concerned. Enjoy your 4 mo old baby and protect it adequately.

  30. K.I.

    This article is written amazingly neutral. Ryan, thank you for doing this! I was surprised to see so many replies. Our nation is divided, as never before, if such insignificant topic may cause such a ripple.
    I try to be supportive of both people who hate conspiracy theories and folks who believes in those. Is it worth to loose a friend, if he or she may have different believes?
    We don’t question atheists or Christians/Buddhists/Muslims/etc. We accept them.
    There would be less violence if everyone start treating each other with respect and accept other points of views, even if we disagree, otherwise we will follow Lenin’s and Stalin’s paths, when any disagreement was root terminated.

  31. Scott Stein

    No conspiracy theorist here…but looking at and tracking the data on Johns Hopkins, also not a true believer that Covid (2% fatality rate) is even relatively close to the Plague (50% fatality rate in the Middle Ages) as some with to portray it. To try to talk with anyone about the data only gets me shunned and dismissed as an “out of touch” nut. It seems that I cannot have a difference of opinion without being marginalized by others who will not answer my challenges using data.

  32. Tina M Reeves

    SO refreshing to read something so positive! Imagine trying to find common ground in today’s arena instead of the bickering and slamming when any news comes on!

    Though your encouraging article was directed primarily at the current events, I pictured a conversation I had with my 20-year old recently. With her young and differing mindset, I must always first be kind then, as your article states, be curious about why she thinks the way she does and how she comes up with the ideas she does – in the most respectful manner possible. If she realizes I am respecting her outlook, she happily engages in a deeper conversation with me.

    And above all, do not attempt to sway the other party to your opinion!

    Thank you so much for your uplifting, timely article! I will be forwarding it to others!

  33. Andrew T.

    Ryan,

    A few months ago, your group published a response to a similar covid question. I don’t remember the specific question, nor do I remember the details on the response. I do remember that my reaction to the response was disappointment. The response did not reflect the quality work/thought your group normally puts into these examples.

    Now, reading this, my response is a hearty approval. What you posted is excellent. Thank you.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Thanks, Andrew.

  34. Conspiracy Theorist

    So, I ask you Mr. Ryan Trimble , or rather contemplate… just how do we “deal with” those that oppose our thoughts and our beliefs?

    Surely, we can’t allow for individuality and or the right to question the world around us. Those who questioned in the past should be utterly chastened and scorned by our 21st century enlighted society. Perhaps they should not have questioned things so we could continue to prescribe smoking to pregnant women, use lead paint, build with asbestos, use talc powder, spray Round-Up, perform lobotomy’s and prescribe those highly effective opioids. Surely, those people who questioned that our world is not flat not so long ago… must repent as we all knew that was not true.

    America is supposed to be place where competing ideas are debated, contested, questioned and ultimately coexist. Why would anyone question the vaccine? I thought we believed for “inclusion”, “diversity” and “tolerance”, or was that just a fancy slogan to for a bumper sticker? Personally, I think is that those people are covering their insecurities and fragmented souls with a garment of moral and cognitive superiority.

    It’s a subversive way to convince ourselves that if we compel others to think like us, we don’t have to worry when we’re wrong… because we’re all wrong. Modern day society doesn’t allow for individualism, group thought is your new master, you can’t live with your decisions, people must look to someone to tell them what to believe, what to think and what to be. This is a compulsion and it can’t stop until the world is all like them.
    We have created a language of political correctness that is censorship. We have allowed the voice of the group, or whoever claims to represent the group, not only to speak for the individual, but sometimes to shout down the individual if his or her story does not fit with an approved narrative for which they push.

    So, Mr. Ryan Trimble, if that questioning my world, proposing alternative ideas, and believing in the individual spirt, I guess I am a conspiracy theorist. I don’t I have the perfect answers and neither does anyone else, but if you have conviction, then your answers are perfect for you.

    Plus, I’ll call BS on this article right off the bat, “I’m speaking directly because…. Paragraph, try to relate emotionally to the audience to gain their trust, oldest trick in the art of deception hand book.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Dear Conspiracy Theorist,

      Thanks for commenting. I think there’s a lot we agree on. If I hear you correctly, you want the freedom to express your viewpoint, and you don’t want your viewpoint dismissed or suppressed. The ideas I’ve outlined above should help you in your cause, not because they offer a defense of your opinions per se, but because they preserve and foster dialogue. To be clear, I’ve offered not a defense of one opinion or another, but have tried to illuminate how to dialogue so that people of differing viewpoints can disagree openly and meaningfully. Hope that helps.

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