The Gordian Knot is an ancient myth about a knot that was tied so tight that nobody could unravel it. Looking at this myth from another perspective, there are numerous ways to interpret this dilemma. For example, how can a knot in your shoelace, be undone so that you can thread it through the holes to lace up your shoes? Answer: You pick at it, and pick at it, until it loosens enough for you to straighten out the shoelace. Sound simple? Ha!
As a seamstress, I often get knots in the thread when I hand-sew clothing that needs repairing. In that instance, I’ll grumble, cut the thread, and just start over. Sometimes the simplest solution really is the best.
Where this gets sticky is when we’re talking about the need to change someone’s mind who is so entrenched in their point of view that it almost seems as if their brain has tied itself into a Gordian knot. How do we help this person (Let’s call him “Len”).
Len is entrenched in the idea that the country is being overrun with immigrants who are going to take his job. His job is not well paid, but he likes the work, and it pays the monthly bills supporting him and his family. If he loses it, well, he just doesn’t want to think about what he might have to go through to get another one. He joins a group that seems to feel the way that he does. In the weekly meetings, he learns the rhetoric used to persuade him that Blacks and Mexicans are after his job, and he begins to use it. He has never knows a Jew, but if the group believes that they are complicit, then it must be true; Jews are sympathetic to immigrants. Len is hooked. He begins to attend activist rallies against immigration policies. Little by little, he becomes anti government. After all, it’s government’s fault that all of this is happening. Of course it is. He can see that now.
It won’t help to confront Len about the errors of logic in his thinking. Taking an axe to the Gordian knot in his mind may only stiffen his beliefs. He has his own support group now, and they are telling him that he is right. He is scared, and that is at the heart of how he feels.
Losing his job would be humiliating and he might lose his house if he can’t pay the mortgage. Even though Len is well thought of at his place of work and in no imminent danger of being jobless, he loses sleep whenever he sees a news report about the many immigrants crossing the border, because they might be coming for his town, his job, and his family. He remembers what happened when his father lost his job. His Dad would have taken a pay cut to keep that job, but he got fired instead. He never recovered. Len had to grow up fast to help support his parents and siblings as his father grew more and more despondent. “Not me.” he thought. “I will fight to keep the damn immigrants in their place. They’re not coming here.”
Much has been written about conspiracy theories, cults, and fundamentalists, but let’s explore how we can actually break the hold that these beliefs have on the individuals that have succumbed to them.
Of course, this method will work differently on different individuals, and the trigger points for them to finally reject what they once espoused may be surprising, but one way to proceed is to pick at threads around the edges of his beliefs until they begin to unravel.
First, you begin to sew doubt. Be consistent in presenting facts, but don’t argue, because arguing will be seen as a confrontation and, rather than being open to what you are saying, he will become defensive further entrenching his adopted beliefs. When one of the former Proud Boy members testified at the January 6th Hearings, he gave an example of how he was able to leave that group. He heard things about the holocaust and heard racist remarks that offended him, and that balanced his own values against that of the group, so he left. “I should have left before then,” he said, implying that the doubt had been building.
So, let’s get on with it. I believe that climate change is the biggest challenge facing us today. We are in danger of extinction along with all the other carefully crafted evolved creatures on this planet. This is my way of attempting to unravel the Gordian knot that is entrenched in those human brains that are denying the imminent danger.