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Weekly 3: Our need to be right


Idea Journal Weekly 3

June 28 · Issue #145 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Question your influences. Find value in vagueness. Earn your opinions. (~3 min read)

#1. “Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.”
Creator of the Brain Pickings blog Maria Popova writes that, “We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion.”
Most of us form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without doing the hard work that true conviction requires.
We then go around asserting these donned opinions, “clinging to them as anchors to our own reality.”
Popova acknowledges that it can be disorienting and uncomfortable to say I don’t know.
But, she notes: “it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”
#2. See the gray between binary options
University president Steve Sample writes in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership that conventional wisdom prizes quick and decisive judgments between opposing options: friend or foe, good or bad, true or false.
If you’re facing an emergency or a clear threat, these instant and binary judgments are often the right move.
But Sample notes that outside of those situations, binary thinking comes with at least three risks: 
  1. Ignoring useful information: Forming an opinion too quickly can shut out additional arguments or facts that may subsequently come up.
  2. Flip-flopping: committing to one perspective and then needing to change it later can lead to the impression that you’re confused or opportunistic.
  3. Herd mentality: there’s a natural tendency for people to believe “what they sense is strongly believed by others.”
Sample argues that instead of rushing to judgement, an effective leader needs to be able to “think gray.” 
Thinking gray means not forming an opinion about an important issue “until you’ve heard all the relevant facts and arguments, or until circumstances force you to form an opinion without recourse to all the facts.”
It encourages patience and an appreciation for nuance.
You may think a given issue is black or white, but the truth is often somewhere in between.
#3. Arguing your opponent's position better than they can
In a commencement speech to the USC Law School, investor and Warren Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger says that believing extreme ideology is a trap. 
If you think you already know something, then you’re less likely to learn more about it.
Munger admits that we’re all susceptible to believing in strong ideologies.
The solution is to do the hard work of forming an opinion: 
“I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another. And that is I say, ‘I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people do who are supporting it.’” 
Only then does he consider himself qualified to speak on an issue.
Quote of the week
“… we have some common desires, like we don’t want to die and we don’t want the economy to crash. But another very common desire to people all over the world, in all walks of life, is to be right. 
It’s very important for people to be correct in their fundamental beliefs in life – it’s very, very difficult to admit that you’re wrong.
People will do terrible things, to others and to themselves in order not to admit ‘I made a mistake’ or ‘I am wrong.’"
- Historian Yuval Noah Harari in an interview on the Waking Up podcast
Other Weekly 3 issues about opinions and being right
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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