I waste a lot of time on Facebook. Most of the time is spent posting and responding to the relatively controversial topics of the day.
It’s an opportunity to learn from people that have a different perspective.
To the outsider, it may appear to be senseless arguing. In reality, it’s a deliberate attempt to elicit explanations and justifications for opinions and beliefs to develop understanding and empathy. This ranges from the political to the social, from the mundane to the most important topics of the day.This also includes a healthy dose of running–related discussions.
For example, I recently started a discussion about the role of gravity in forward motion. Ken Schafer, Damian Stoy, Curb Ivanic, Cory Torkelson, and a few others discussed the issue at length. Each of us came from a slightly different philosophical background (Pose, ChiRunning, barefoot running, etc.), which led to an awesome discussion. While we didn’t agree, my own understanding of running increased. The value of such interactions cannot be overstated.
Another example- at last year’s New York City Barefoot Run, a bunch of us “experts” held public clinics and engaged in a lot of discussion. I was disappointed to see most of the “experts” professing their particular brand of barefoot running without really listening to their clinic attendees (or fellow experts). We all had slightly different opinions on the topic and it should have been an awesome opportunity to learn. Instead it felt more like a combination between a college lecture hall and an infomercial.
How to Learn from Others
So how do you go about tapping into the vast knowledge base of the people around you? Here are some tips:
- Check your ego at the door. Funny thing about humans- we all think we’re slightly above average. This leads us to a belief that our thoughts and opinions are correct because we have special insight the average person doesn’t have. This leads us to think and say things like “I’m surrounded by idiots!” This sets us up to automatically dismiss the opinions of others. To guard against this, I always assume I’m the dumbest person in a discussion. This leads me to seriously consider the opinions of others, even if I vehemently disagree.
- Be open to all possibilities. I like religious debates… mostly because people talk about religion as if we have indisputable facts backing up our particular beliefs. Atheists will insist there is no God. Christians will insist there IS a god. Is there indisputable proof of either? Nope. There’s a chance either side could be right. Or both could be wrong. What if the Norse had it right and there’s a bunch of gods? I have quite a few strongly-held beliefs… but I’m always open to the possibility that I’m wrong. Be open to dissenting thoughts and ideas no matter how outlandish.
- Don’t be so damn defensive! Building metaphorical walls may protect your fragile opinions, but they also work to keep you from learning.
- Don’t judge morality. More specifically, don’t automatically apply your moral code to others. Some people may have an option that fits their particular moral code. Understand that others come from different backgrounds.
- Be aware of the in-group/ out-group bias.. We like people that are similar to us; we consider them to be part of our “in-group.” This includes people with similar beliefs. We tend to gravitate toward people that are part of our in-group and treat them better than ‘outsiders.” This makes us less likely to take the thoughts and opinions of out-group members seriously. Resist that urge and seek out people with divergent thoughts, opinions, and backgrounds.
- Be aware of the fundamental attribution error. We tend to chalk up our successes to our internal dispositions (we’re a good, smart, rational, hard-working person) and our failures to external events (the sun was in my eyes, that teacher hates me, someone gave me contaminated food at the aid station). We do the opposite with other people… we assume their successes are the result of luck, chance, or the influence of outside forces. We assume their failures are the result of their actions, personality, etc. This skews our ability to learn from their successes and failures.
- Be aware of the confirmation bias. Once we decide on an opinion, we seek out information that “proves” we’re right (concept known as the egocentric bias). We also tend to ignore information that “proves” we’re wrong. This filter is EXTREMELY powerful. For example- most barefoot runners agree barefoot running reduces injuries. However, we focus on the people that have successfully overcome injuries via barefoot running while ignoring people that have gotten injured barefoot running. In essence, we like to be right. This leads us to filter incoming information appropriately. To overcome this, actively seek out information that conflicts with your world view. This is the reason I engage in so many discussions with barefoot running skeptics… it helps offset the confirmation bias.
Following these seven tips will help you learn from others more effectively. If you find someone that disagrees with you, instead of trying to persuade them over to “your side”, think of it as an opportunity to learn something new. You’ll find it’s an enriching experience.