What We Do When Someone Disagrees With Us

Kathryn Schulz, the illuminating writer (author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error) and thinker, gave an excellent talk at TED this past year.

There is a moment in her talk when she summarizes what we do when someone disagrees with us that is worth pondering.

The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.

When that doesn’t work. When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle and they are too moronic to put them together.

And when that doesn’t work. When it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart we move onto a third assumption. They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

So this is a catastrophe: our attachment to our own rightness. It prevents us from preventing mistakes when we need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.

And this is what it’s like to come face to face with someone that disagrees with us.

That point isn’t really whether we’re right and they’re wrong or they’re right and we’re wrong — often neither of us are perfectly correct. The point is how our ego subconsciously works to protect itself from anyone and anything that doesn’t entirely agree with us.

Rather than open ourselves up to how the world works, we instead put on blinders that tell us we don’t need to consider the possibility that we’re wrong.

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    Image via TED