Michael Bolton has asked me to improve the sentence in the headline. Here is my attempt. It stems from two of my beliefs:
It’s better to focus on the immediate problem than on convincing people of a universal truth.
Right action does not follow from thinking correctly. Thinking correctly follows from the habit of acting correctly.
The sentence is an aphorism: terse, stylish, true, and deep. I think its proponents value the aphoristic quality as much as they do the underlying sentiment. When I watch them use it, I believe they’d be happiest if they could generate an epiphany (”a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something”). I’ll try and mimic some of the aphoristic terseness at first, even though I am explicitly not going for an epiphany.
1. The setting: an unproductive conversation needs to be redirected. It’s likely that the conversation is happening because some important people are unhappy. But instead of talking about how to make them happy, we’re talking about whether they are right to be unhappy. We’ve come down to—explicitly or implicitly—competing definitions of quality.
2. There is a brief lull in the conversation. Our hero speaks.
“Different people care differently.” (beat)
Because the sentence doesn’t obviously have anything to do with quality, it has a desirable “huh? where did that come from?” effect that keeps people from jumping into our hero’s pause-for-emphasis.
3. The hero speaks the following sentence with an “opening up / giving” hand movement, the sort where you bring your hand up and out, rotating it from palm down to palm up. This counters the harshness and abruptness of the first sentence: Diff-rent pee-pul judge diff-rent-ly.
“So different people will judge our product differently.” (beat)
A little rhetorical flourish in the parallelism of the two sentences. The “so” at the beginning switches the meter to more iambic, gives it a little forward momentum, opens it up into a more conversational tone. “Judge” is a strong, active word (as is “care”), and focuses attention on what people are doing that the group must react to.
4. Someone tries to jump into the pause. Our hero gains time for one more utterance with a “just one more thing” head-tilt-back, audible intake of breath, and soft palms-out rotation of the hands, forefinger up.
5. The next bit takes long enough to give our hero a chance to make contact, via hand and head movements, with the people who are bored sick of the argument and have been sitting silently while the true believers battle it out. They’re being invited to break their silence to lend support.
“I predict that if we figure out which people we care about, and figure out what they care about, and how we can know their judgments before we get surprised like we were, we can live long and happy lives without ever agreeing what quality is. Let’s give it a try, OK?”
Long—because the problem isn’t simple. A program for action. Inviting a group of arguers to become “we” again.
The whole structure of the three parts is moving from authoritarian (”a fact you must recognize is…”) and abrupt to light (”long and happy lives”) and consensus-seeking (”we”, “OK”, ending on a rising question-tone).