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June 17th, 2020
Are you wrong or am I wrong? The insidious tendrils of this perspective weaves through the structure of so many conversations, turning communication into a competitive game, one of zero-sum that leaves us only with the polar trophies of defeat and victory.
If you are wrong, then I look good by default. I don’t even have to have a good point. The juxtaposition next to something worse activates our preference for the lesser of two evils. In the arena of the public, the greatest evil is the out-group and the risk of association with that ill-fated tribe. The mere risk of such association will goad us to clamor aboard a fancier looking ship, even if it’s headed for the mythic precipice at edge of the world.
So during conversation, do we pick out places where our companion is wrong? Or do we try to sense the faults in our own thinking? The later might seem better, humbler, but it’s still part of the same polar world of competition.
A better framework is to disregard the sources as targets of blame or fault and focus on the action itself:
Where is the conversation faulting?
Say for example two people have two different understandings of one particular word. The word is used during conversation. How does the other react?
Oh, I don’t think you understand the word you just used?
Wait, a minute, maybe I don’t understand that word?
That word didn’t make sense in the way I usually think about it, why exactly did that happen?
The key feature of this last question is that it addresses the nature of conversation. This question opens up the possible space of solutions to include the two prior questions, but beyond this, it also creates space for other interpretations that don’t exist within the purview of the first two questions.
The two people talking might be from totally different countries where the specific word has different meanings, meaning that in the case of speaking together, both definitions are correct. And more importantly, if this were the case, the first two questions that attempt to figure out what’s going on are rendered ineffective and often lead us down unproductive rabbit holes. Only the third question opens up the perspective on the situation enough to include such a possibility.
Strangely, the widest perspective enables us to zero in on the inequity faster than a more focused point of view.
So much of learning and understanding is a matter of context, and the size of the context we take into consideration. We run into trouble when we are too often zoomed-in. The benefit isn’t in being able to view things from a bird’s eye, zoomed out position, but in the ability to toggle fluidly between narrow specific focus, and a wide, encompassing picture.
Detecting inequities is a matter of how we see the situation more than it is a function of the actual details, because from the right angle, at the right distance, all those key details snap into focus.