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On the Human Truth Threshold

Yesterday I had lunch (whole wheat pasta with eggplant in a marinara sauce) with a lovely woman who recently sent me an e-mail asking for sponsorship for some kind of run for some disease and the foundation the donation would go to still tests on animals.

Now, I go through this weekly during what is known as "season" (which could be called "fundraising season"): the time when people who live elsewhere during the warmer months return for four or five months (at most) of perfect weather to entertain and attend events for every cause on the planet. And because so many organizations still test on animals, I spend a lot of time directing people to lists of charities that do and don’t test as I tactfully applaud their philanthropic impulse while rejecting the charity for using animals.

Some people, as I’m sure you know, get so taken aback by this type of exchange that you never hear from them again. But others, such as this woman, invite you to lunch and want to hear more. (Guess who’s taking yet another person shopping? I should start charging for that. In fact, I might just start a business to help people better align their behavior with their beliefs. There’s a HUGE market for it!)

She said something I’ve never heard put exactly this way: Everyone has a limit to the amount of truth about themselves that they can think about in one sitting.

We have our unique truth thresholds, and once they’re reached there’s a law of exponentially-diminishing returns that kicks in and makes you less likely to do anything and more likely to be defensive once you’ve reached your threshold. And the problem is that because everyone has a different threshold, unless you know the person you’re speaking with fairly well, your enthusiasm to get them to think about what they’re doing could easily be the reason you fail (because you say too much at once and it’s simply too challenging for them).

She thought I was operating on this premise already (no chance) because she complimented me on the way I plant one seed whenever I see her or talk to her, and I don’t necessarily explain anything, though sometimes I do, and I don’t initiate the discussion. Ever.

You’re probably going to disagree with this, considering 300 animals die every second, but I don’t initiate discussions about animal rights. There are myriad entry opportunities in most conversations, and certainly whenever food is involved, but I always wait for someone to say something first.

Why? Because then I know they’re interested, and I cannot be accused of lecturing anyone.

I tried initiating the discussion, for about a decade, and I failed miserably because I was deciding what was important to someone and when. In reality, I was just saying what was important to me, on my time table. That’s an ambush.

What about you? Do you initiate discussion? And whether or not you do, do you provide information piecemeal? Do you ever suggest someone make a change in his life without him first asking you how to make a change?

I ask these questions because I’ve developed some kind of critical mass, unintentionally, and I’m suddenly getting a lot more results than I used to get. I like to study excellence so I can reproduce it, and I’m currently studying what I’ve done to produce positive results in many people at the same time. Oddly, I have never given anyone a book or a pamphlet, and though my own pamphlet sort of mimics the conversations I have with people (over time), I may never use it as a first line of defense (but maybe as a reinforcement). We’ll see.

What do YOU think about the idea of a truth threshold?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Deb #

    This makes perfect sense to me. Especially the diminishing returns – I think we've all seen that. And it is so difficult to say just enough, but not too much.

    I do leaflet fairly often and table once in a while. Tabling is good – people come up to you, and can engage you that way. Leafleting is sort of forcing the conversation, but still they can choose to take the literature or not, and they can read it whenever they want. I've had people come back to ask me about something that they are concerned about, and I've gotten a few, at least, to think about it a little deeper.

    I don't tend to initiate conversations about it, and I probably deal with bits and pieces when I talk about it. I also talk to the issue that concerns them – with my neighbor, his biggest concern is workers rights and various abuse issues, and I know I made some light go off in his head when I talked about the slaughterhouse workers and the abuse they bring home to their families. I don't tend to follow through on these things, unfortunately. Before I moved I used to do a vegan dinner night with some friends (at their request) and we had a great time trying out gourmet vegan recipes. I always made copies for us to work from and so they always had copies of what we'd made, and I know they often make those dishes again. They've introduced many of their friends to how good vegan food can be, and while that only gets you so far, it does remove one barrier in people's minds. And the last time I was visiting with them and doing another vegan dinner night, it was clear that she, at least, was somewhat more open to and informed on the issues behind the food itself. I honestly can't remember if we had talked about any of it. Chances are that she asked and I answered at some point while we cooked together.

    I have to learn to follow through on these things! I hope that this is a good "strategy", to let them initiate, and to talk about it in bits and pieces, because it is what I'm most comfortable personally. Though I can't claim I've seen any kind of success. Other than them realizing that vegan food is delicious! That one is easy.

    October 20, 2007
  2. Greenie #

    The truth threshold definately makes sense to me and I have seen it in action. I tend to choose my audience fairly carefully when it comes to talking about my ideas on the use of animals. There are some people who I see as "soft targets" and then there are others that I know no matter what I say it probably won't sink in. I am in my last year of veterinary medicine and as such have been to numerous abbatoirs and seen some pretty horrible things. Most of my class stil eat meat and think it's "fine". I will not change their view, they know what goes on and they have ratoinalised it to themselves.

    I don't think I have "converted" anyone to my viewpoint. I wish I could, maybe my tactics are wrong I don't know. I am pretty well in the same mind as Mary when it comes to initiating a discussion – I don't initiate. If people want to know then they can ask.

    Mary I am really looking forward to your brochure because I think it might help me coalesce in my mind how to put forward my ideaology in simple terms when someone asks me. It is clear in my mind but I find it really hard to articulate it in a simple but convincing way to people who have never been exposed to these kind of ideas before. Does anyone else have this problem?

    October 21, 2007

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