Reflecting on it now, I don’t think I give all that much unsolicited advice these days. I doubt that was the case when I was younger… but I’ve learned that energy is better spent in some directions than others. I think that most of this friction happens when someone shares their perspective, and I share one which is in conflict with theirs. Personally, I enjoy this exercise as it’s an opportunity for us both to learn and for our perspectives to evolve. If it’s something I don’t know much about, I’m much more of a listener than a talker but if it’s something I’ve researched or studied, I’m eager to present what I know in the hopes of the other person learning something. When the other person is open-minded and also looking to learn, it usually leads to a great conversation. Think Joe Rogan with Neil Degrasse Tyson. The problem seems to arise when the other person is closed-minded and not looking to learn.
When I’m talking to someone who’s well researched and knowledgeable, they’re more likely to teach me something than I am to teach them. When talking to someone who’s rooted in their beliefs, it’s like there’s no progress to be made. My logic and evidence only serve to frustrate them. That’s usually where I get called a know-it-all. They get further frustrated by the idea that they can’t change my mind without logic or evidence. That’s usually when I get called argumentative or combative. Then I’ll say something along the lines of, “without any evidence, is it possible that it’s not true?” And that’s where I get labeled an asshole for challenging their beliefs.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand those criticisms. The first several times I heard them, I took them to heart and assumed that the other person was right. Like I said, I want my friends to challenge my beliefs and call me out on my nonsense. When they do, I almost always give them the benefit of the doubt and do all that I can to understand things from their perspective. But then I learned that people carry a great deal of bias in their own advice and that you can’t take everything at face value, especially with an open mind. If you do, you can be convinced of anything. And Along the way, I was convinced of many things. And learning that they weren’t true the hard way, I’ve adopted a new strategy. If someone can’t explain something to me in a way that I understand, then they have no right to ask me to adopt that perspective. And rightfully so, if I can’t explain something to someone in a way that they understand, I have no right to expect them to agree with me. I quite like this approach as it prevents the bad information and the only limit to the good information that gets in is your ability to understand it. It’s important to be both open, *and* critical.
Even with this approach, people will label me as argumentative, or combative, or stubborn, or someone who thinks they’re always right. It’s exhausting at times. Especially when they’re trying to explain something like creationism or flat earth and they’re frustrated with me because it’s not working. The truth is I don’t care if *I’m* right, I care what’s right. As someone who embraces the unknown, if I don’t think I know what I’m talking about, I’ll simply say I don’t know or here’s my best guess. If I think I know something and I’m wrong, the best thing that can happen to me is someone pointing out why I’m wrong. Why? Because that’s my opportunity to learn, improve, and arrive at a better understanding. But what happens when I think I’m right, and someone else thinks they’re right?
This is what I’m trying to navigate right now because everyone seems to have a strong opinion about everything these days. Someone will volunteer a perspective, and I’ll challenge it. They’ll provide their reasons, and I’ll provide my criticisms. I’ll provide my reasons and they’ll provide their criticisms. In a real conversation, this is where the fun part begins and through facts, reason, and good faith, you hopefully arrive at a common understanding. When that dynamic plays out through enough people, collectively, humanity gets way smarter. Unfortunately, that dynamic isn’t nearly as common as “well you have your beliefs and I have mine, so we can just agree to disagree.” Imagine someone telling you that about the earth being flat. Seems silly right? What about someone telling you that about evolution? Less silly considering that most of the world is deeply religious. What about politics? Well considering how divided we are right now, how are we supposed to make up any ground while we’re all agreeing to disagree?
While I’m not committed to this perspective, something has occurred to me. When people call me stubborn, or argumentative, or someone who always has to be right… it’s usually when I’m standing my ground on something. If I only stand my ground on things that I know well and am rather confident in, is that a fair reaction? If I’m always open to seeing new evidence or logic that would challenge my understanding of something, why the animosity? So I’ve reflected back on some of these claims over the last year:
- Racism is not the solution to racism.
- Big corporations aren’t inherently evil.
- Crystal healing is most likely placebo.
- Truth and reality matter.
- It’s important to be punctual.
- Science and religion are not the same.
- We shouldn’t assume something to be true without sufficient evidence.
- The end doesn’t justify the means.
- Compassion and intelligence are important to problem solving.
- Weed isn’t all bad.
- Trump is a corrupt individual and most likely will not finish his term.
- Technology isn’t evil.
- The earth is not flat.
And yet when I stand my ground on my understanding of something, it’s said that I’m being difficult. If I provide evidence and sources, I’m exhausting to deal with. I look forward for opportunities to agree with people, but I won’t agree for the sake of getting along. I can disagree with someone and get along just fine… but in an age where your collective identity matters more than your individual identity, and your identity is established along ideological lines… it seems like agreeing with your tribe is more advantageous than ever. In the short-term anyways. I suspect we’re witnessing what happens when it plays out in the long-term term. Rather than using the tools that allow us to learn and find a common ground with one another, we’re opting to avoid people we disagree with and surrounding ourselves with those who are ‘like-minded’. But what happens when you have a disagreement with those people? Feminism seems to be approaching some sort of civil war as they fight over things like whether women in porn objectification or liberation. As this plays out, we get more and more fragmented.. always chasing a safe space that we feel good in. And eventually, we’re alone. As the individuals we were meant to be, with our own views and perspectives, based off our own unique experiences. If only we could appreciate that individuality today, we might be more motivated to find the common ground with one another. If we had that motivation, perhaps we would refine the tools needed to challenge our own beliefs and understand the perspectives of others. Perhaps with those tools and confidence, we’d be able to appreciate how disagreements and good conversation are an easy opportunity for everyone involved to learn and be better off. And maybe with that optimism, we would be much more open to hearing the advice of others.
It’s funny, I often say that people are easier to understand when you think about them like squishy robots. I may have had a breakthrough. It occurred to me that when changing the mind of someone else, what you’re effectively doing is changing the programming. What happens if you introduce a new line of code to an existing program that is in direct conflict with the previous programming? You get an error. And if you’re the computer program who has been mostly functional in its tasks, you have to decide whether to reject that new line of code or rewrite the program to accommodate for that new line of code. I think that’s a lot of what we’re seeing right now. These facts or ‘updates’ are coming out, and not everyone wants to update to the most recent version. Some people don’t understand the updates or why they’re necessary while others don’t want to deal with having to rewrite so much of their existing programming to accommodate for the update. The end result is that the majority of us aren’t working on the most up-to-date software and it’s creating some very serious issues. When people are working on different versions of software, it makes communication much more difficult. If the updates are far enough apart, it’s like they’re not even speaking the same language anymore. And there’s no shortage of people who think that they’ll be just fine without the update. But we all know how that turns out… you get left behind.
I think the solution to unsolicited advice isn’t hacking the primal or emotional parts of the brain. It’s the logical brain that understands things and it’s there’s a permanence to understanding things which doesn’t exist in feelings or urges. I think the key to unsolicited advice is in understanding how to change someone’s mind and that the key to changing someone’s mind is reprogramming them from the ground up. Before you can introduce that line of code, you have to address the underlying lines of code which are in direct conflict. Before you can drop some truth on someone, you have to address the underlying beliefs that it challenges. Otherwise, it just doesn’t add up and it’ll be easier for them to reject the new information for the sake of comfort in their old beliefs.