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Patton Oswalt Revealed The Most Effective Way To Change Someone's Mind In Just One Tweet

Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock & Twitter
What Patton Oswalt's Twitter Exchange With Trump Supporter Michael Beatty Reveals About The Effectiveness Of Kindness

The Sun and the Wind are shooting the breeze one cloudy, early spring afternoon. They spot a man in a large coat walking by himself. The Wind bets the Sun that it can get that coat off of the man. It’s going to hit the man over and over until it rips the coat right off of his body.

The Wind blows and blows and blows. The man falls to the ground, puts his body into a fetal position and makes himself as small of a target as possible for the gale force. The Wind keeps up his effort and pushes the man all over the place but he keeps his coat on.

Exhausted, the Wind looks at the Sun and says, “Can’t be done. That man will never take off his coat.” The Sun pushes the clouds aside and turns its rays up a few degrees. Within minutes, the battered man has taken off his coat and is relaxing in the uncharacteristically warm late March weather.

Sure, this is a long way to go to say, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” (and that man’s insane day likely started a chain reaction that resulted in a tsunami in the south Pacific) but the point stands that warmth results in better change than pillorying someone — especially with bluster.

You’ve likely heard about Patton Oswalt interacting with a man on Twitter. A guy who was mad online said something mean to Oswalt after Oswalt published a tweet critical of the president.

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Rather than replying with something vicious (and it probably could have been good as Oswalt is a good standup comedian and a better writer), Oswalt took the time to look through the guy’s Twitter feed and sees that he’s raising money to pay for a series of medical problems. Oswalt both donated money himself and urged his followers to chip in.

And — in the parlance of clickbait — what happened next will blow your mind. Scratch that, it won’t.

The erstwhile troll gushed with thanks and was humbled by the unilateral act of kindness.

While I’d be shocked if they ever get closer in their political opinions, they are closer as people.

This story is a near clone of one that happened around Sarah Silverman a couple of years ago.

A non-fan called her a vulgarism for female anatomy (sans context, if I recall correctly) and rather than releasing the hounds, she chose kindness. She scrolled through his timeline and commiserated with him about having chronic back pain. She then implored her followers to help the guy find someone who can help him out. The guy’s pain probably wasn’t magically healed by hugs but some of his anger may have been.

Silverman went on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast shortly after this interaction and summed the whole experience up with, “Facts don’t change minds, feelings do.”

The world would be an easier place if one plus one always equaled two. But that ceases to be the case in both real life and higher mathematics. Our natural inclination to having someone scream, “eff you!” at us is to scream it back louder.

The universe is random and chaotic (note: it’s not but a wide range of events that have unexpected consequences which are beyond our ability control or even ken) and anger feels more productive than a whole host of less, uh, assertive emotions.

RELATED: 7 Things Truly Kind People Do Every Day That Make Us Adore Them

Yes, evil exists. Yes, sometimes shouting is the only way to be heard. Yes, sometimes love just ain’t enough. Yes, sometimes the answer is the kind of violence that would even make John Wick vomit.

A story of “white privilege” coming. A few years ago, I went home to my parents’ place in Georgia and accidentally brought my girlfriend’s Christmas gift with me. The line at UPS was absurd and the general attitude of the customers was not in keeping with the spirit of the season. The woman behind the counter had taken her verbal lumps and pretty much started her rap with, “we can no longer guarantee this arrives by Christmas, now how can I help you?,” with the same energy one would yell at a tow truck as it pulls away with your not illegally parked car.

The easiest thing after waiting in line for 25 minutes would have been to share the pervading attitude. Instead, I wished her a merry Christmas, apologized on behalf of the entire Grinch community, told her I understood she had nothing to do with the delivery time and I may have given her an $18 tip on a $22 purchase.

Guess whose gift beat Santa to the dreary northeast.

Unfortunately, a number of these stories of turning that frown upside down feel very transactional. But in a Dr. Chapman five love languages kind of sense, it’s somewhat less “weird” to help a stranger monetarily than to hold her hand or offer to spend quality time with her.

I don’t believe that you can stop a rhino from charging with good vibes. Or combat true evil with anything short of a throat rip.

But marauding rhinos and instances genuine wickedness are few and far between. A number of problems borne out of avarice, lust, pain, ignorance, misunderstanding, and fear can be solved with empathy. It’s rare that anyone is the villain in her own comic book and while her motivations may seem alien to me, they may have some basis in reality.

As a fairly big, straight, white guy living in one of America’s safest cities, I appreciate I’m virtually never in physical danger. I’m going to do my best to recognize that sometimes a thing that not an existential threat may be or may be perceived to be by someone else.

Tiny piece of service beyond, “Hey! Try being nicer,” read this great essay from NPR about the power of recognizing the nature of our anger — step one in being able to remedy a problem.  

RELATED: 5 Ways People Take Advantage Of Your Kindness (Without You Realizing It)

Tom Miller is a writer and performer based in New York. He's been a mechanical engineer and a banker. He's been the general manager and coordinating video producer at YourTango for 12 years.