Being right rules.
That smug feeling of satisfaction you get from being right is like a nitrous boost for your ego.
But just like a coke head who regards their verbiage as timeless wisdom, you also run the risk of coming across as an intolerable prick.
I should know, I was one.
Opinionated and argumentative, the younger Adrian was right all the time. Like literally all the time. Incredibly, I was all knowing and infallible at such a young age. What a glorious time for my adolescent ego.
But during my first year of uni, the illusion shattered. It all came crashing down in an earth shattering epiphany that changed my life forever.
4 WORDS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER
In my youth, I experimented with drugs. LSD included. I had some weird and wonderful times. As a first year uni student I came across Timothy Leary, a ‘visionary’ of the psychedelic era who believed we could shortcut our mental awakening through LSD.
I got his book and was hypnotised. I lapped it right up.
One night I was home and began discussing it with my parents. Though extremely open minded and the source of my unending curiosity, they made their beliefs clear; that Leary (a figure directly from their era) was little more than a crackpot with very questionable theories.
Naturally, they didn’t understand that I was right.
Apparently unaware of my infallibility on all matters of the world, we got in an argument. Shit got heated. Voices were raised, doors were slammed. I headed to my room fuming, frustrated and angry with their ignorance and unwillingness to see my point of view.
“Men who know little are often intolerant of a point of view that is contrary to their own”
Edward Bernays, Crystallising Public Opinion
As I sat there, my sister opened my door. In a direct tone only she could deliver, she uttered four words which changed my life forever.
“You’re not always right”
As she slammed the door behind her, the words reverberated around my skull.
“She’s right…. I’m not always right…. and if I’m not always right… then… I don’t know everything… which means, there is so much to learn”
In that instant, my attitude shifted. It’s the only epiphany I’ve ever had in my life and it was well… significant.
I began to reflect more deeply on my behaviour up to that point. I didn’t listen to other points of view. While other people were talking I was formulating my response. I would find ways to discredit them and prove myself right. Being right was more important than learning.
It was a mindset driven by ego.
I was addicted to the temporary pleasure of being right. I was fuelling my ego like it was some kind of needy god craving a daily sacrifice. Each argument became an offering to my god.
I sacrificed knowledge. I sacrificed learning. I sacrificed growth.
My deep ego attachment made me a stubborn, frustrating prick who was impossible to have a discussion with. And so often people just didn’t bother.
But that all changed.
BELIEFS ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN
So why do I even bother to tell this story? Am I suggesting that I have since become a paragon of virtue? A monk like character who expresses only tolerance, acceptance and open mindedness?
Well as we’d say in Australia… “Ummm yehnah”
I still judge, jump to conclusions and defend my beliefs like everyone else.
The purpose of this post is to shine a light on all of our latent close mindedness. To demonstrate how, to varying degrees, we all prefer to reinforce our own beliefs rather than challenge them. To make us more self aware about our behaviours and lastly to provide some practical tips to help loosen up those belief structures.
So why is this even important? AKA “so why should I give a shit?”
Because being too set in your beliefs is dangerous. The deeper held your beliefs, the more they come to define your identity. The more they define your identity, the more aggressively you will fight to defend that which threatens them.
This kind of rigidity can be dangerous. It’s the kind of thing that leads to hateful vitriol and bipartisan confrontation. It engenders unnecessary division and intolerance in society.
“I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive, working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth. New ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.”
– Chris Rock’s character Rufus in the film Dogma
The less we challenge and examine our beliefs, the less we learn. Once you feel you have it figured out, you stop searching for answers.
Sure it’s easier, but nothing good comes from easy.
The reality is that challenging our beliefs is hard. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling and so we avoid it. Preferring to stay in our comfy couch groove, content with the same perspective we’ve always had.
As such, we become victims of confirmation bias.
To avoid challenging our beliefs, we surround ourselves with people who share similar opinions to our own. We read books and websites that affirm our views and so feel more justified in having them.
So what can we do about it? How do we break out of this?
Assuming you are still with me, below are a few thing I am trying to put into place to help loosen up my own mental rigidity.
1) Seek to understand first before arguing your point
Think back to a recent argument/discussion you had with someone. One that got a little heated. Did you really listen to them? Or as soon as you disagreed with their opinion (however stupid it may seem) did you focus on proving them wrong?
If you are anything like me, it won’t take long to find an example. How could this have played out differently?
Instead of arguing, try asking questions. Actively seek to understand why they believe what they believe. Approach it from a position of genuine curiosity. Getting someone to explain why they believe something can be revealing. Often you may reveal they really have no idea why they believe something. Sometimes you may gain some valuable insight which changes your perspective.
The ego wants to argue, but arguing gets people defensive. Not only can you learn through questioning, but it can also lead the other person to something deeper without being confrontational.
2) Read books outside your field of interest and seek the other side of the argument.
Change up that confirmation bias and broaden your perspective. It’s only natural to gravitate towards things that interest us and enjoy that which supports our views. But it’s good to occasionally get a totally new perspective, preferably something that may even challenge your views.
Always read self development and business books? Why not try something about ancient history or biology? Do you lean to the left politically, why not pick up a Ronald Reagan biography or start perusing the right wing blogs.
Try and keep an open mind. Write angry notes in the margins if you must, vent your frustrations, but try to listen and get a more rounded perspective.
3) Really listen and pay attention.
Make a concerted effort this week when having a conversation with someone to really listen. Avoid giving your opinion and really pay attention to what the other person is saying. Their body language, their tone of voice, their reasoning. Get out of your head and listen.
These are all things I am experimenting with, so I’d be curious to know how they work for you.
Lastly, I will leave you with this epic quote by William Trotter (as quoted by Edward Bernays in Crystallizing Public Opinion).
Really, I know it’s long but read it. It’s awesome.
“If we examine the mental furniture of the average man, we shall find it made up of a vast number of judgments of a very precise kind upon subjects of very great variety, complexity, and difficulty.
He will have fairly settled views upon the origin and nature of the universe, and upon what he will probably call its meaning; he will have conclusions as to what is to happen to him at death and after, as to what is and what should be the basis of conduct.
He will know how the country should be governed, and why it is going to the dogs, why this piece of legislation is good and that bad. He will have strong views upon military and naval strategy, the principles of taxation, the use of alcohol and vaccination, the treatment of influenza, the prevention of hydrophobia, upon municipal trading, the teaching of Greek, upon what is permissible in art, satisfactory in literature, and hopeful in science.
The bulk of such opinions must necessarily be without rational basis, since many of them are concerned with problems admitted by the expert to be still unsolved, while as to the rest it is clear that the training and experience of no average man can qualify him to have any opinion upon them at all.
The rational method adequately used would have told him that on the great majority of these questions there could be for him but one attitude—that of suspended judgment.”
William Trotter as quoted by Edward Bernays, in Crystallising Public Opinion