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December 13th, 2019
This episode is dedicated to Bret Weinstein who is an evolutionary biologist and creator of the Dark Horse Podcast. You can connect with him on Twitter @BretWeinstein
Bret Weinstein is credited with creating and popularizing the phrase Bad faith changes everything.
It sounds great and for those who know what he’s talking about it makes a lot of sense. The best example to help elicit just what he’s talking about is the ‘gotchya interview’.
This is where an interviewer is looking to trap someone in their own words and either make a fool of this person by entangle them in their own story in a way that makes that person look guilty, usually through contradiction and hypocrisy. Accomplishing this malicious task is not difficult, it’s akin to gaslighting and it merely requires the ability to be more agile with one’s use of language. Unfortunately, language is not equipped with a framework that is airtight in the way that mathematics appears to be when compared together.
Such an interviewer who is looking to undermine their companion in dialogue is said to be in bad faith, as Bret would say.
The phrase in bad faith, however, does not communicate all of this. The phrase requires a fair amount of context, as the word faith is a fairly complicated one given it’s religious overtones.
To have good faith in conversation is to attempt the opposite of the ‘gotchya’ style interview. When someone engages with good faith, they do so with the assumption that communication will not be perfect, that things will be misunderstood, and because of this our companion in dialogue needs a lot of leeway to negotiate all the vagaries of language and communication.
At core, what is the aim of such a person? One who seeks to converse in good faith? What is such a person looking for?
The answer is simple. Many of our mistakes are forgiven on the basis of this answer:
Intention counts for a lot in communication and human relations. Or at least, it should.
There is a world of difference between situations where we’ve been hurt by a friend and it wasn’t intended, and an identical circumstance where the hurt was intended. The intention not only clarifies the past and explains what’s gone wrong, but it goes beyond this and describes something important about the future behavior of such a friend.
A person who converses in good faith is searching for the meaning that a person intends to communicate. In some sense this means taking everything with a grain of salt because what’s said most likely does not honor the intention behind the message because of inevitable problems with language and communication. But further, it means that we must give our companion in dialogue a chance to clarify their message so that it achieves higher fidelity to their intention, and we can aid in this process by asking thoughtful questions.
To converse in good faith is to listen for a person’s intention, and actively search for it. This is how dialogue can be so powerful. What a person says is often just a blurry view of what they have in mind. The right question can become an aid like cloth to a lens covered in oil. Each question and answer sharpens the view, allowing intention to emerge.