Blog Post

Changing your mind and the minds of others

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 29 May 2020



Changing your mind and the minds of others
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 239
Posted DateFriday 29 May 2020 15:38 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen

I love the work of Julia Galef. I found her some time ago when I was researching the concept of conversing in good faith.

I came across her again the other day in a TEDx talk talking about what she called Scout Mindset - an alternative term for Science Curiosity.

And then I found a blog post explaining why she engages in online arguments with people, even if there's no real hope of changing their minds:
  1. To change the minds of less committed onlookers.
  2. To give relief and comfort to onlookers who share your view and wish someone would stick up for it.
  3. To set an example of "sharing one's opinion even if it's controversial", a valuable norm to reinforce even if you don't exchange anyone's mind on that particular issue.
  4. To set an example of "polite and reasonable argumentation" again a valuable norm in its own right.
She tweeted this originally and was challenged on these points and asked: "You didn't mention the motivation of changing your own mind. Shouldn't you always be approaching arguments with open-minded curiosity, motivated by a desire to learn?"

And this was her fascinating response:
I think that "trying to change your mind" is a great goal we should be striving for, but that most debates have a pretty low probability of succeeding at that, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. Here are some examples to illustrate the difference: 1) Arguments I engage with in hopes of changing my own mind
  • Arguments that sound wrong, but the person making them seems smart and intellectually honest, so maybe I'm missing something
  • Arguments that sound wrong but were shared approvingly by people whose judgment I respect
  • Novel arguments I haven't heard before, that sound wrong on first pass but are interesting and worth considering more
2) Arguments I probably just wouldn't bother with, if my main goal was changing my own mind
  • Arguments I've already heard a bunch of times
  • Arguments that seem obviously fallacious, and there's nothing promising about the source to suggest I might be missing something
  • Arguments by someone who gives signs of being a bad thinker. For example, if they're being rude and twisting other people's words uncharitably, that's not an encouraging sign that I can learn from them
  • Arguments by people who don't share some of my core premises (like, I'm secular and they're making a religious argument about ethics)

Credit: Julia Galef

This thinking overlaps somewhat with this post in my blook on disagreeing constructively.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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