I cringe when I hear of school debates in which students are directed to argue a position whether or not they, or the facts, support it. Sadly, this misguided thinking pervades today’s corporate and political arenas, where it often has a devastating effect on the common good.
As human beings, we default to putting things into neatly demarcated buckets; it’s how we make sense of the world. However, as Robert Sapolsky noted in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, putting facts into buckets might have its advantages but it can wreak havoc on your ability to think about those facts. When you think categorically about left wing or right wing, red or blue, you have trouble seeing how similar or different two things really are, and if you pay lots of attention to where the boundaries are you end up paying less attention to complete pictures.
To counter this, regardless of what you read or learn, subscribe to the ‘strong opinions, loosely held’ school of thinking. Always be ready and open to having your opinion changed if the argument and evidence to the contrary are strong enough. Never confuse an attack on your position with a personal attack, which will only cause you to defend instead of understand.
As Adam Grant put it in a tweet, ‘When you’re in a heated argument, stop and ask, “What evidence would change your mind?” If the answer is nothing, there’s no point in continuing the debate. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it think’.
Don’t be the horse.