Obama’s four rules for persuading people and effecting real change

“Local communities can do extraordinary things when they are given the chance.”
“Local communities can do extraordinary things when they are given the chance.”
Image: Reuters/Kamil Krzaczynski
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Former president Barack Obama addressed 500 young leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists from 60 nations and 27 states at the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago yesterday.

During his welcome speech, “in true dad fashion,” Obama presented a set of four rules he encouraged everyone to follow that he believes will help elevate civic culture, rules we can use to effect change in our everyday lives. “There are just a few of them, and I think they’re pretty simple,” he said.

The rules were sent to the Obama Foundation’s mailing list after the speech. Obama wrote:

1. Listen to the people around you

“Share your stories with one another and try to make a connection. If possible, find someone who’s not like you—who doesn’t look like you, think the way you do, or share the same set of experience as you—at least on the surface.”

2. When you disagree, don’t be disagreeable

“Real change comes through persuasion and openness to others. Have a point of view, be rooted in your experience, and don’t be afraid to share—but listen and be open, don’t be partisan. This isn’t about politics; it’s about our civic culture.”

3. No selfies!

“You can’t have a conversation with someone when you’re busy looking at your phone or trying to get a picture. Shake hands, really connect.”

4. Have fun

“This work is hard. It’s full of frustrations and setbacks. It can be lonely—but it doesn’t have to be. Know that there are other people who share your frustrations and your joy in the small successes—and how those small successes can turn into big ones.”

The two-day conference is the first major event hosted by the Obama Foundation, Barack and Michelle Obama’s big initiative since leaving office. The foundation calls itself a “startup for citizenship” and works to shape what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century.

The summit’s mission is to gather civic leaders to “exchange ideas and explore creative solutions to common problems.” Obama began the conference by telling the crowd he saw it as a “big brainstorming session” or “hackathon,” part of a bigger effort to promote civic engagement, a cause he’s been vocal about in his post-presidency.

“Our goal here is not to create a political movement,” Obama said in his speech. “Some of you maybe aspiring to be politicians and I believe firmly in politics. But I also believe that the moment we’re in right now, politics is the tail and not the dog. What we need to do is think about our civic culture.”