It seems like the more I learn and read, the quieter I try to become. I include ‘try’ in there because it’s a process, with setbacks, like anything.
The real meaning of the more I learn, the more I see that everything is way more complex than I once had thought of.
This has been an ongoing thought for a while now. It actually started with a drunken conversation with one of my good friends. I was asking him pretty bluntly if there were any major flaws of me as a person and one thing obviously stuck with me.
He said you’re quick to believe things that you read.
I said ok, and we pretty much moved on and went into the bar we were standing out in front of.
But this bugged me. I was thinking to myself, “Well, of course, I believe the things I read! Where else should I learn things?” and other short sighted thoughts along those lines.
However, it seems that the more I read, learn and think, the more I am inclined to agree with what my friend had said. I was quick to form an opinion and even quicker to defend it. Although I had studied arguments and logical fallacies for my philosophy degree, I was ignoring that I was committing fallacies and not thinking in whole pictures.
I realize that I have been committing the confirmation bias. I pretty much choose a side, then read everything about that side, without ever looking for conflicting information.
This last week, while reading Darwin’s Golden Rule, I realized that I need to start implementing his rule into my life. Darwin was meticulous about collecting facts that were contrary to the opinions he held. If he found a gap in this thinking, he would study both sides closely.
This is something I haven’t been good about. I haven’t been searching out and reading opposing viewpoints on subjects I think I know well. Some spots that first come to mind about me needing to explore both sides are:
– Food Sustainability
– Climate Change
My immediate thought is my current opinions aren’t wrong, but when I think about what Charlie Munger says on holding opinions, I don’t know the other side’s arguments very well:
You must understand the opposite side of the argument better than the person holding that side does.
Because of me seeking out only confirming information, there is no way that I am fully understanding the opposite side of the argument. According to Munger’s standards, I haven’t earned the right to hold an opinion.
The more I think about that, the more I’m ok with it. I haven’t earned the right to hold much of an opinion on anything. Yes, I read a lot and learn a lot, but every so often I read a book that completely shifts my paradigm, and I realize how much I didn’t know before reading that book.
For example, last year when I read Anti-fragile, Nassim Taleb talked about how Switzerland has one of the most stable governments in the world. Was it because everyone believed in their central system and leaders? No. It’s actually because of how powerful their local governments are. Their centralized government is almost non-existent.
While Switzerland is a very different nation from the United States, getting hit with information like this made me realize, I can’t really hold an opinion on government, because I just realized I don’t know enough.
If I don’t know more about the opposing side than the people holding that opinion, then I haven’t earned the right to have that opinion.
If I want to earn the right to hold an opinion, then I need to start implementing Darwin’s Golden Rule. On any subject, I need to seek out experts and information that goes against what I hold to be true.
Since I believe that eating a paleo style diet is the healthiest option, I can’t hold that as a firm opinion until I read into veganism and vegetarianism even more. That includes sustainability. Is it really environmentally stable to eat meat? What if all that meat is bought at the local farmer’s market from animals that aren’t in factory farms?
There are a lot of questions that I can’t fully answer, which means I need to learn more.
Will I all of a sudden stop talking and stop proposing my thoughts? No. But I think I need to be more careful about how I present them. I can’t let me pride of not knowing get in the way.
If I actually don’t know the answer to something I’m talking about with people, I need to be more humble and say “I don’t know” rather than pretending to know, just to continue pushing my opinion. I’ve done this before many of times.
How I’ve Made People Feel Uncomfortable
Looking back, I’ve been very quick to pick a side and then to argue it until the cows came home. I would inject my unnecessary opinion into conversations where it would leave people feeling uncomfortable.
I’m currently reading How to Win Friends and Influence People, and it’s making me realized that although some of my favorite thinkers are / were aggressive in promoting their opinions (Taleb, Hitchens, Dawkins), it’s actually not the best way to win people over.
I think the reason these men are the type of people that are either loved or hated is because of the way they present their opinions. I don’t knock on how they do it, everyone has their own methods, but I don’t want to be someone that people either love or hate.
I feel like there is a way to hold opinions that offend people, but people won’t be offended with me as a person. For example, although I’m an atheist, I don’t want that to effect my relationship with my religious friends.
The reason I have gotten into religious arguments in the past is because I would speak out. I felt that directly confronting people was the best way to get my point across.
It’s not just religion. It’s with diet, exercise, or any subject I thought I even remotely knew. I always have thought that if I want this person to think the way I do, I should directly tell they are wrong and here is why.
That doesn’t work too well.
One, I don’t know as much as I think I do and two, telling people they are wrong is the worse way to win them over. But I thought I was being like Dawkins or Hawkins by being aggressive with my opinions.
If I’m really trying to get people to at least consider my way of thinking, then why would I use a tactic that has such a low conversion rate?
In “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Carnegie talks a lot about how to get people to see your side and way of thinking. And it’s not by telling them it. It’s by letting them come to the conclusion themselves. If you stay positive, and slowly walk them around to at least look at the subject from your side, you have a way better chance of that person agreeing with you because their pride isn’t wrapped up in it.
Since they came to the conclusion to see your side of the argument, they don’t have to feel hurt that they were wrong (not that either side is truly right or wrong). My strategy of randomly interjecting, telling people they were wrong, and trying to argue my way to getting my opinion across has probably been one of my biggest bad personality traits.
It doesn’t work and it makes people uncomfortable.
I’m trying to work towards a better way of managing this. One of the first ways is listening more and talking less. If I continue to ask questions of the other person, not only do I not give myself the chance to voice my opinion, but I have a higher probability of learning something from them.
The second way is an increased awareness that I don’t know much at all. If I walk around reminding myself that I still have so much to learn about most subjects, then I feel less inclined to randomly tell people my “opinions”.
I’d rather wait to be asked something then just tell people.
Is this a rule that will work in all cases on all subjects? Probably not. Will I go the rest of my life being a humble quiet person? No, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes and snap quite a bit.
But maybe I can just be better than I was before. I can definitely be more aware of the gaps in my thinking, and try to apply Darwin’s Golden Rule to everything I think I have an opinion on.