Conventional wisdom tells us that we should strive for agreement and look for common ground. This is truly a benefit when it leads to acceptance and the human right to express our conscience without fear of reprisal.
This is called tolerance. But the fallacy of tolerance says that no one has the right to challenge or critique your point of view.
Tolerance taken too far doesn’t always produce our best thinking. I often use the phrase…
Egalitarian with people and elitist with ideas.
In other words, you have every right to hold your view. That is a right to be honored — the freedom to express your opinion. But when it comes to ideas, it’s good to be an elitist. If you can’t support your idea then you shouldn’t promote it. You can hold any view you want. The only demand is that you hold it intelligently.
Are you able to present evidence that this is the best way to think? You have every right to challenge my thinking. And where my thinking is wanting or weak, I should be honest enough to tweak it or even change it without forfeiting my right to express it.
Here’s the test : does my idea or view answer the questions the best, solve the problems the best, and fit reality the best?
When Galileo and Copernicus developed their thinking (separately), on our Solar System, they were warned and punished for believing that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the center of it all. The conventional thinking refused to put these astronomers view or their own view to the test. They were not egalitarian with people – with freedom of thought. They were elitist, but not with ideas. The data was there, and freely available for discussion. But the elitist did not want to know. As a result, they refused to hold their view intelligently, while at the same time punishing those who challenged their thinking.
So how does this apply to our day-to-day lives? How do you know if your thinking is right? Is there a model that helps us think more clearly – more accurately?
The answer is yes! Invite the contrarian into the process. There are probably one or two living in your house. When we allow our thinking to be subjected to disconfirmation, we forge a better idea. The result is clarity of thought.
It’s good to have thinking partners that are not echo chambers.
Unfortunately not enough people have these kinds of collaborators. The conventional wisdom strives for agreement. In many cases and countries, the lack of compliance leads to ostracism, torture, and even death.
What is the solution? We need to teach people to be good at cognitive conflict. How?
1. See conflict as thinking rather than fighting. Compliance is an inferior model for thinking.
2. Expose yourself to those different than you. This is a requirement. If we don’t resist the neuro-biological drive to be around those who are like us, we will not do our best thinking.
3. Don’t think of conflict as a threat. Different ways of thinking might at first feel like a threat, but in reality it’s a guide to clarity of thought. When I engage with others, my ideas are either confirmed or corrected, and sometimes a little of both.
4. Promote conflict as a means to recognition and praise. In too many cases it leads to punishment and disapproval. There are organizations filled with folks who have issues they are afraid to raise. They are afraid conflict will lead to provocation. They don’t want to get embroiled in arguments they are ill equipped to manage. Rather than seeing conflict as a winning strategy, they see it as a losing one.
In the medical profession alone, there are estimates as high as 400,000 deaths per year that were caused from medical treatments – many of which healthy conflict could have eliminated. The medicine became the poison instead of the cure. Encouraging conflict is encouraging the effort to find error and better ways of checks and balances.
After an extensive investigation of the Shuttle disasters, the lack of having a culture of conflict was listed as the #1 reason for the mishaps. Those who spoke up with safety concerns were sanctioned, and in some cases demoted.
5. Accept that conflict requires patience and energy. Conflict, debate, and argument are not easy. Yet they are the very things that produce the outcomes we eventually appreciate. We will always be afraid of conflict until we become afraid of the silence that a lack of it produces. When all I hear are the echoes of my own voice, I get uneasy. When I invite the rigors of conflict, I discover much more of who I am and what I’m becoming.
Let me summarize:
- We need to see conflict as thinking
- We need to get better at doing it
Truth is always there, but the truth won’t set us free until we develop the skills, the habits, and the courage to use it.