Occasionally we encounter people with radically different beliefs. What would it be like to help someone from the other tribe leave the Dark side and come into the light? Alan Jacobs’ book How to Think, relates many remarkable stories.
Suppose you could nudge a person or 10 or 100 toward your completely reasonable line of thinking? The most remarkable tale in How to Think doesn’t matter because of where the person began or ended, but how far she moved.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas have been in the news for years. They’re known for “protests” at the funerals, of servicemembers and gay people. They protested at the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. They also created a web site, GodHatesFags.com.
How to Think tells some of the story of Megan Phelps—Roper, a granddaughter of the founder. Growing up, she carried signs with provocative messages and protests. Later, she was active sharing the group’s views on the Internet and social media.
Social media enables people to interact, whether they agree with each other or not. One fellow with different views chose to engage Megan politely and non- confrontationally. He asked some questions as a friend. She recognized that because of his beliefs, he was probably misguided or possibly evil, but she did interact with him for a while.
The punchline is that when she thought with different people, even cautiously and in limited fashion, she eventually concluded that the people closest to her held notions she no longer found congruent or appealing. She ultimately walked away from the church and lifelong relationships. She made dramatic changes and began living her life with a wider and more diverse community. Her core belief in God remained solid, yet her words and deeds shifted dramatically.
My day job involves helping effective people make better choices than they could on their own. Aspiring doctors begin with the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm. It is not important that I agree with my clients, but it’s vital that I understand them.
I often encounter wealthy, successful people who believe things which keep them from achieving their stated objective. To help them succeed I must speak the truth in love, to tell truth to power. A correct diagnosis is not enough. My clients must perceive the diagnosis to be useful for them for it to benefit them.
In the last generation I have read many books about how people think. They include Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics, Nudge, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape our Decisions, Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes, and Thinking, Fast and Slow, plus a dozen more you might know. Many texts bemoan how we are frequently our own worst enemies and how hard wise thinking is. Thinking well is hard work. Jacobs’ volume offers a bit more hope. His work is far shorter than the others I have read. His observations clarified some truth I only half understood before.
There are so many differences between people. Some of us are tall and some of us are short. Some are lean and some are well insulated. We have pale skins and dark skins, and every shade in between. A few are left-handed; more are right-handed.
Perhaps “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” as Barbra Streisand sang. Maybe not even smartest can really make it alone. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Maybe we were designed or evolved to be interdependent.
Jacobs advocates finding and engaging the most reasonable people who disagree with you. He, like, Warren Buffett thinks that allies, even imperfect allies, are extremely important. Sometimes bringing in a person trusted or respected by the other side can make big difference. Votes are usually own by tiny margins, rarely by landslides. Sometimes compromise can cost little but can gain much. Compromise is not treason … for either side.
Yet, many of us seem to have a default setting when somebody disagrees with us. We assume that the other is ill-informed and needs information. If the other person receives the information but doesn’t change to our “correct” thinking, then we wonder if they are a little dim. If we eventually conclude that the other person is not stupid, then many of us tend to wonder if the other is evil.
Perhaps that common model is flawed. In case you live or work with people who perceive the world differently, you might be interested in more gracious or effective ways to live and interact with them. You might enjoy Alan Jacobs’ book.
You, like me, might benefit another way. Maybe you will discover how to improve your thinking.
How to Think also reports on the Yale debating club, Yale Political Union (YPU). The traditional debating club tallies the number of wins and losses of each debater. At YPU the question is: “Have you ever broken somebody on the floor?” What that means is: “Did you change the other person’s thinking while you were debating them?” It is an indication of reasoning or persuasive power to break somebody on the floor. The more important question is: “Have you ever been broken on the floor?” The second question matters because it shows personal growth. Yale values people who will not go through their life with only what they believed as a teenager.
What’s the best book or blog or a Ted talk you’ve seen on how to think more effectively?
Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.”