Skip to content

Molding Opinion: The Right Amount of Truth

November 29, 2022

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highCaricature of Abraham Lincoln, 4-panel sequence starting with line drawing, adding color and lighting effects to achieve finished drawingblank vertical space, 24 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels high“He who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.”

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highOK, who said that?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Did you say Abraham Lincoln??blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Hey, you’re right– what tipped you off? 😊blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

That quote spanned the top of the page in a Wall Street Weekend review of a book about Lincoln: His Greatest Speeches by Diana Schaub, a professor at Loyola University.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The review was written by Harvey Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The premise of the book: Lincoln chose his words carefully. He wanted to convey the truth, but he also wanted people to take action. Which, in the words of Mr. Mansfield, required “the right amount of truth to inspire the correct action.”blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

In his famous Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, while the American Civil War was raging, Lincoln refers to “we” throughout:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

“… we are engaged in a great civil war…”

We have come to dedicate a portion of (this) field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that (the) nation might live.”

“… we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

The outcome of the war still hung in the balance. When Lincoln said we, he was speaking of the North, the Union.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He knew there could be no reconciliation without a military victory. That freeing the slaves would come to naught if the Union lost.

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highWhen Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address on
March 4, 1865 (just 41 days before his assassination), the North was closing in on victory: Robert E. Lee would surrender the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Lincoln’s focus now shifted from winning the war to reunifying the country (“With malice toward none with
charity for all…”).blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

blank vertical space, 24 pixels high“One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves
not distributed generally over the union but localized in the southern part of it.

These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.

“To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.”blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Lincoln does something brilliant here: he comes right out and says slavery was the cause of the war, but he doesn’t blame the South unilaterally. He says both sides are to blame: the South for its willingness to destroy the country over slavery, and the North for tolerating slavery even as it opposed it (only being willing to restrict slavery in new territories as the country expanded westward).blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He chooses his words carefully. He doesn’t use the terms “South” and North.” Instead, he says slavery was localized in the “southern part,” and that the “government” tolerated slavery and was only willing to restrict its expansion. He keeps the focus on the country as a whole.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Lincoln aimed at what is today called “inclusivity.” He avoided any good guy-bad guy absolutism, and appealed to both sides to help rebuild the country.

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highWhat can we learn from Lincoln’s approach to molding opinion and bringing people together?blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Marketers could rethink trying to win certain customers by deliberately ostracizing others. (“Our product is for cool people like you, not losers like them.”)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Major brands could rethink jumping on politically correct bandwagons like climate change and “endemic racism.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(Most people believe that ending our dependence on fossil fuels is a good idea, but not everyone believes that wind and solar are going to replace oil, coal, and nuclear in the next few years. Likewise, many people– including myself– do not believe every white person is a racist at heart.)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We could all learn to chose our words more carefully, to try
to build bridges instead of burn them.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Molding opinion, winning hearts and minds: it’s not what
you say, but how you say it.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It’s “the right amount of truth.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       * blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Ashley Callahan content strategy PR manager Chick-fil-A restaurants corporate
blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

blank vertical space, 40 pixels high