by Neal Kohatsu
Published here on Sept. 21, 2022
It is ironic that one of the few things Americans can agree upon, today, is there is almost no agreement on anything in this country. Perhaps most Americans would acknowledge that this state of affairs is not conducive to solving any of the pressing problems facing the country. If flat out divisiveness is a broadly held concern, how do we address it?
The organizational psychologist, Adam Grant recently published a book entitled, Think Again—the Power of Knowing What you Don’t Know. In the book, Professor Grant offers a perspective on how to accomplish more in life, whether in school, business, government, or the community. Grant’s concept is to think more like a scientist—in other words, to embrace healthy skepticism, to critically examine evidence, and to remain open to re-thinking one’s view on just about any given subject. He describes a “Rethinking Cycle” as a progression through humility, doubt, curiosity, and discovering, circling back to humility.
When discussing a controversial or sensitive issue, we should keep Grant’s reflections in mind. Perhaps a list of questions, based on his work, would help each of us generate more light than heat in our next important conversation. Questions such as: (1) Couldn’t I be wrong on the issue? (2) Have I gathered all of the high-quality evidence that is available, in formulating my opinion? (3) I’ve changed my mind, before, on other issues, what might sway me to change my mind regarding the issue at hand? (4) Have I thought of the broad context around the issue?
While there are a range of strategies and approaches we could consider on how to reduce the divisiveness that is so visible in American society, I suggest that the most fundamental concern is a matter of values—in particular, personal humility. In politics and so much of social media (which are often entwined), humility is nearly absent. Instead, American culture, particularly online, has become dominated by narcissism, arrogance, anger, and hostility. This toxic environment is incompatible with the concept of humility.
I’ll leave it to others to determine how we restore values such as humility, kindness, and sensitivity at the societal level. The news media do highlight individual examples of humble people going the extra mile for others. However, these actions tend to be rare enough as to be newsworthy, instead of what we would hope to see, commonplace.
While we can wish for a better society, let’s start by examining our own lives, to see if we are each living by the values we cherish. As William Ernest Henley concluded in Invictus, “…I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”