On Being Wrong

Here’s another post from the previous version of my blog. As I watch some of the election votes come in. I think it’s important to revisit it.

This one’s a little old, but here is a very good talk by Kathryn Schulz on being wrong. Here are two of my favorite lines from this talk

The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.

Because, unlike God, we don’t really know what’s going on out there. And unlike all of the other animals, we are obsessed with trying to figure it out.

Take a moment to check out the video below.

The part that I found most insightful, and what I want to blog about today, is the part where Schulz talks about how we react to someone who believes differently from us. Someone who we believe is wrong.

I hope you’ve watched the video already, but in case you haven’t here are the reactions she outlines.

  1. First we think they are misinformed (and as soon as we provide them with the relevant data they will see the light) and when that proves to be untrue,
  2. ¬†we think they are idiots (We’ve shown them the presence of 2+2 and somehow they are coming up with 5) and if somehow we convince ourselves of their intelligence then
  3. we think that they are malevolent, deliberately distorting the facts for their own material or immaterial benefit.

I think she’s right about these reactions. I’ve gone through them myself and I’m going to bet that you have as well. Schulz points out that by sticking to this script we miss the chance to correct mistakes.Read the script closely and you’ll find that it’s all about preserving your own rightness, and thus your own status and your own worth at the expense of the person who disagrees. Embedded in the script is a fantasy of our infallibility, a denial of our own finiteness that we work so hard to preserve that we would deny the value of the other person in order to maintain that illusion.

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the term fundamentalist relational process in the book Becoming Whole and Holy. This term is unconnected to Fundamentalism as a religious movement but instead is a sociological term that describes a family, community or other system that only tolerates a single narrative, or a single truth. Should someone have a point of view that differs from that narrative, that person risks expulsion from the group. The worldview of that family, community, organization or group takes precedence over the relationships between the members of the group. This worldview can be political, philosophical, religious or in any other area, but it is the one place where there can be no compromise, it is the one line across which there can be no love.

I see in these three steps the possibility for fundamentalist processes. When those who believe differently from us even after seeing the same evidence are stupid or malicious, we are a hairs-breadth from saying that this person is unworthy of our love. We are a hairs-breadth away from saying “Thank God I’m not like one of those people.

We are not God. We don’t know all that’s going on out there. Yes there are those who hold to powerful and dangerous incorrect beliefs, and we share with them the same ability to hold powerful and dangerous incorrect beliefs. Thus, if there is nothing else that we can hold in common with those with whom we disagree, we are bound by our common fallibility. That alone should give us pause before we condemn them.

Loving People, Changing the World, one photo at a time?


TED Blog | Restoring humanity after the tsunami: Becci Manson at TEDGlobal 2012.

Becci Manson works as a photo retoucher. Her job involves making models appear prettier, skinnier and to have better skin. In the video embedded above she talks about how she, and her friends were able to use those skills to restore alleviate some of the loss that the survivors of the tsunami in Japan felt.

I don’t know what her faith background is, but I think she’s a great example of what it means to consider “love your neighbor as yourself” one of the two greatest commandments, and in her story I see an approach to loving and serving others that I think Christians should emulate.

First of all, she responds to need with action. She saw that there was a tragedy and she was moved to help even if that help was just another pair of hands with a shovel.

Second, she looked for the ways that she could apply her own background, skills, and giftedness in love for others, even when those ways were small things.

In the Christian world we talk about “calling” a lot. There are lots of us figuring out how we are called. I would like to suggest that even without the clouds opening and the voice from the sky that sounds suspiciously like James Earl Jones, that you are called to respond to the needs you see around you and to see if there is a way you can apply your own background, skills and giftedness in love for others.

Empowerment, Creative Confidence, and Small Victories

David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence | Video on TED.com.

There’s a lot of things that I learned from seminary, about the Bible, church history and the like, but I also learned a lot about myself and about others. One of my professors said something that stuck with me. He said, “The best way to motivate someone is to catch them trying to doing good, and praise them for it, the best way to demotivate someone is to catch someone trying to do good, and berate them because they didn’t do good enough”

I recently read the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s a great book about making change in both personal and organizational contexts. In this book, Chip and Dan tell the story of what happened when researchers told a group of hotel maids about the benefits of exercise, half of these maids they just told about the benefits of particular types of exercise, the other half received the information, but were also told that by doing all the physical labor they were doing (the bending, pushing, walking and lifting that comes with cleaning several hotel rooms a day) that they were already doing pretty well at exercise. They came back a month later and found that the second group had lost an average of 1.8 pounds. The first group hadn’t lost anything.

This story has something in common with the story that David Kelley tells in the video embedded above, of the patients who after successfully confronting and overcoming their fear of snakes begin to have less anxiety in other areas of their lives. They work harder and perform better.

These stories illustrate the power that small victories (and sometimes defeats) can have on our self-perceptions and how those self perceptions can help us to do better. If we see ourselves as exercisers, we’ll probably exercise some more. If we see ourselves as people who can face our fears and come out better, then we’ll face our fears more.

If you are reading this, you probably care about changing the world. You’re probably some sort of activist or advocate and you are passionate about your cause. The big problem that I’ve often seen with those passionate about their causes is that there is a lot of good that simply isn’t good enough. Somebody wears a pink ribbon, or tweets a link to a video and we berate them because they don’t know that the organizations that they have supported don’t actually do as much good as they think they do. The problem is that we do two things when we do that. First of all we present the idea in their mind that they aren’t activists. Secondly we place the goal for doing good so far over there that the journey from here to there is overwhelming.

Maybe you should consider where in your advocacy, activism, development and ministry you can create the opportunity for small victories. Where can you build in places where people can begin to see themselves as world changers, as advocates, as ministers, and as activists. Those small victories can lay the foundation for significant victories later on.

Image Credit

Pardon me, but my privilege is showing.

Not very long ago, I was sitting with a group of people, and somehow the discussion turned towards whether this person should go to the Macy’s in downtown St. Paul at midnight for Black Friday, and more specifically, whether this young woman would be safe.

For those of you who haven’t been to downtown St. Paul, it’s not exactly a hotbed of activity at night. There aren’t many clubs, nor are there many people. For the crowds, the parties, and most of the crime you cross the Mississippi into downtown Minneapolis. Based on my own experience, I was arguing that she would be fine.

The problem is that in the moment, I forgot that because I am male, my experience of walking down the street is significantly different from the experience of the typical female. I essentially forgot my privilege.

If you ask a group of men what they do on a daily basis to protect themselves from being raped, you’d probably get blank stares and maybe one answer of not going into really sketchy parts of town, or depending on the group you’d get a homophobic joke. Ask that same question to a group of women and you’d get a significantly longer list that includes things like where you walk, who you walk with and how you hold your keys (see the banner on this page)when you’re walking by yourself.

I know this, and I recognize it as an injustice, but somehow in the midst of the conversation, I forgot it and started arguing from my privilege of being a guy.

So why am I telling you this? It reminds me of a TEDx talk given by Jay Smooth recently where he talks about talking about race.You can click the link above, or watch the video embedded below.

Here’s the quote that got me thinking about this incident:

And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day

I’m someone who cares about the equality of women and the elimination of sexism. What Jay and this discussion about Macy’s reminds me is that this isn’t stuff that you learn once and you’re set for life. It’s a matter of practice, of continuing to see the residue of sexism, privilege and other -isms, and continuing to work to become better at cleaning that residue off.