Editorial: We are not what we believe

  • In his book "Think Again," psychologist Adam Grant contends that if people avoid identifying themselves with their beliefs, they will be less likely to view contrary arguments as personal assaults and thus more inclined to hold productive discussions.

    In his book "Think Again," psychologist Adam Grant contends that if people avoid identifying themselves with their beliefs, they will be less likely to view contrary arguments as personal assaults and thus more inclined to hold productive discussions.

  • In his book "Think Again," psychologist Adam Grant contends that if people avoid identifying themselves with their beliefs, they will be less likely to view contrary arguments as personal assaults and thus more inclined to hold productive discussions.

    In his book "Think Again," psychologist Adam Grant contends that if people avoid identifying themselves with their beliefs, they will be less likely to view contrary arguments as personal assaults and thus more inclined to hold productive discussions.

 
Updated 6/14/2021 9:28 AM

Much has been written about our Great Divide, the polarization that threatens to tear the country apart, that is so bitter that families and neighbors sometimes cannot even talk to each other.

We've written quite a bit about it ourselves.

 

When that writing begins, the polarization is attributed to many things -- today's social media; the power of ideological entertainment that passes for news on cable TV and the radio airwaves; political manipulation; income inequality; the growing sense of powerlessness people feel.

There are myriad factors and no doubt they all play a role.

But we seldom talk about human nature -- about our responsibilities as people, as Americans, to respect each other and to listen to each other.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and author of "Think Again," a marvelous book on rethinking our opinions, offers a fascinating theory about why most of us dig in so much on our views.

We tend, he writes, to identify with the views we hold, and when we do, a challenge to our thinking becomes an assault on who we are.

Instead, he says, we should cherish criticisms as an opportunity to grow. Not that every criticism is accurate. Many, of course, are not. And some may have only a kernel of truth to them. But some, if we are open to considering them, can improve our thinking.

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And as thinking beings, we should embrace that, shouldn't we? Just as children find joy in learning new things in school, we should relish that, shouldn't we?

When we turn, say, 40, we'd like to be able to know more than when we turned 30. Or when we advance from any day or year to the next.

There is an assumption that as we age, we grow set in our ways. But if that's so, isn't that symptomatic of a decline? We never know everything. Even into old age, don't we want to continue to learn, to grow, to evolve?

"Being wrong," Grant writes, "isn't always a bad thing. It (finding that we were wrong) can be a sign that we've learned something new, and that discovery itself can be a delight."

Instead of identifying with what we believe, Grant contends, we should identify with core values.

In other words, we should identify with things like love, compassion, integrity, justice, hard work, perseverance. These are the things that make us who we are -- not whether welfare is good or bad, not whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden are better leaders, not even whether liberalism or conservatism is superior.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's fine to have opinions on these other things. But let's recognize they are that, opinions based on our best reasoning at the time we formed them, but subject to modification if we are presented with compelling evidence that contradicts them.

A person who occasionally changes an opinion isn't someone who was wrong or stupid. That person is someone who has grown, who has gotten better with age.

What a joyful way to think!

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