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School Of Communications

The Overview Effect: BYU Professor Says Eternal Perspective is Vital in Self-Persuasion

BYU School of Communications Director Mark Callister Urges Students to Record God’s Tender Mercies

When School of Communications Director Mark Callister was asked to speak on how faith inspires his work, he chose to talk about persuasion as it is presented in Psalm 77: a man seeks faith in earnest and proceeds in self-persuasive remembrance. Callister recounted a character in unspecified distress, saying “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.” He found the Lord by answering his own questions, specifically, Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.” The speaker in scriptures said, “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.” Callister related his own experience that confirmed that remembrance is faith-building.

Psalm 77 was one of several scriptures Callister read during his Faith + Works Lecture to demonstrate the art of persuasion. Callister is an expert in the techniques and theory of persuasion, and he is especially interested in how we need to understand how persuasion is inherently neutral. Tactics can be used both positively and negatively. In his lecture, Callister addressed how he applies his knowledge both as a professor of advertising and as a disciple of Jesus Christ. “Persuasion is studied in lots of different areas but one of my favorite areas is scripture,” he said.

Callister cited scriptures, personal stories and conference talks to demonstrate that persuasion can serve good or evil. “Persuasion is a tool, and like any tool, it can be misused by the handler,” he said. “It is not the fault of the tool, but the user.”

After discussing techniques used to persuade for both good and evil, Callister said, “The reality is that persuasion makes the world a better place. It can be used for forging peace agreements, assisting people in nonprofit work and to help people avoid unhealthy behaviors.”

Throughout his lecture, Callister spoke of his experiences as a communications expert and award-winning educator with humility. He admitted that his perspective is unique due to his field—for example, he enjoys hearing salesmen pitches because he’s curious about which persuasion tactics they use. However, his main point was that self-persuasion is the most effective form of the art, and that the primary way we can self-persuade to our benefit is to remember with grateful hearts and minds. “Even through the tough times, you’ll find the tender mercies of God,” Callister said.

Callister spoke of journal-keeping and how he learned to see the positives in his own life by first recording the positive experiences he heard from others. Now, he has hundreds of personal experiences recorded in shorthand to find spiritual inspiration. “Record your experiences and tender mercies, so you can see the Lord’s hand in your lives,” Callister urged.

Seeing the pattern of God’s involvement is a way of engaging the “overview effect,” a term borrowed from Sister Tamara W. Runia’s address, “Seeing God’s Family through the Overview Lens.” He mentioned studies of astronauts who viewed the Earth from outer space as another influence on having a wider perspective. He said some astronauts felt they had a life-changing experience and others were mostly unaffected. It wasn’t just “seeing the vastness” of space that changed their perspective. It was “contemplating the vastness they see” that gave them a new perspective.

More than 200 people attended the lecture. Jessica Byers, a communications graduate student, said she got to know Callister when he invited graduate students to his home.

“I love listening to him because he shares such an eternal perspective in a way that’s simplified and easy to understand,” Byers said. “He is very accomplished in his field, but it is also evident in the way he speaks that he is accomplished in his discipleship as well.”