Sunday, April 25, 2021

10 Points On Understanding The Other Side’s Perspective

I originally wrote this in 2017. I'd thought it lost when Facebook disabled Notes, but I found it. So here it is for you.

(Get a cup of coffee, this is a long one.)

    As is so often the case, someone asked me a question. But there’s a story ...

    First, know that I make it habit to honestly answer legitimate questions—even if I don’t like the tone. Sometimes I have to grit my teeth and respond, but it’s surprising how often you’ll find things can be worked through. If it hadn’t been for that habit I wouldn’t have noticed what I’m about to tell you. While it was indeed a sincere question, it was so deeply embedded in one particular ideology that the woman— literally— couldn’t ask without it being filled with buzzwords, assumptions, beliefs and lurid tales of the baby eating monsters on the other side dancing in her head.

    To give you an idea of what I’m talking about I’m going to use a word I absolutely loathe. Brace yourself. Ready? Imagine a young white, Southern belle in the 1960’s (struggling to get by in the new reality of civil rights) sincerely asking, “Well just how do you get along with niggers?”

    I’ll give some readers a second to unknot their panties for me daring to have used the ‘n-word.’ Now I’ll remind you although it seemed insulting, it was a legitimate question. I’ll follow up that up by acknowledging the question boiled down to an newer version of <insert Welleslian accent > “Well just how do you get along with someone who isn’t socially enlightened?”

    And that boys and girls are how blogs are born. Well technically that’s how coffee is spit, but that’s a line of jokes I’m not going to go down.

    Okay, so how the hell do you answer that kind of question? Because, truth be told, once you get past the initial shock of how it was phrased, it actually is a hell of a good question.

    How do you get along with someone with a different ideology than you? I started writing a response and... well then it turned into what you’re about to read.


    First — Have you read this? If not I strongly suggest you do. It's about what I call "Bleacher Thinking." (Basically,Yay us! Boo them!) And how obsessed we become over the misconduct of the other sides (them) but wildly disconnected about the bad behavior from our side (us). This especially when it's the exact same behavior.
for you non-FB users it's  also here

    Second — and going with the suggestion in the piece – go have some coffee with folks who think differently than you.

    Third — Take it a step further. Ask about and seriously listen to their position.

    That's a learning technique that seems to have been all but forgotten. Without judging, without jumping in to tell them why they're wrong, without rejecting, without being an apologist, without putting forth your own views — try to understand their point of view, belief, and logic. Actually listen to the evidence they are supplying for what they are saying. This isn't the time to try to punch holes in it. It's time to get as full of a picture as possible.

    This is called ‘listening.’ It’s markedly different than drinking the Kook-Aid. Listening doesn’t hurt. You’re not going to be infected or endangered for doing it. That immunization starts with you don’t have to decide about what you’re hearing right now. In fact, it's kind of important you don't. (I’ll explain later.) If you force yourself to wait before jumping in to tell that person he/she is wrong — surprise surprise—you'll often find stuff that actually does make sense. And not so surprising, you'll find some stuff that is absolute quackery. That's okay too.

    Now let’s take a look at some of the standards for you to listen.

    Fourth—Ask them to explain it to you in simple English.

    This doesn’t seem like much, but it’s REAL important. Here's why. Inside a field buzzwords are a communication shortcut among those who understand the subject. Outside that field buzzwords and catch phrases are often used to confuse, intimidate and make you feel stupid. They can also be a Humpty Dumpty set up. Not knowing a buzzword, you can't be sure if that's what it means. But more than that, buzzwords are often used to cover that the person using them doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. Basically they don’t know the subject, they’re parroting words to sound smart.

    Also, something I picked up a few decades back that there’s a difference between logic and rhetoric. (Also there’s a difference between debate and dialectic, but that’s something else we’ll go into later.) Despite what they ‘think,’ often what people are doing isn’t being logical. It’s instead belief and persuasion presented as logic. That’s to say they’re presenting their beliefs as if they are facts -- and often they’re trying to get you to ‘buy in.’ Buzzwords are a great way to hide when someone is doing this. Now that topic is a big can of worms I don’t want to open right now, but it’s important to know that to understand this: A lot of ideologies are self-eating watermelons.

    That’s to say they are mushed up pattern of circular logic, self-reinforcing beliefs, self-fulfilling prophecies, decision making paradigms, behaviors, “There’s a hole in the bucket Dear Liza” self-limitations and blame. Okay fine. So what? Ah, glad you asked (or didn’t). Once someone is on this kind of intellectual and emotional hamster wheel, what keeps it going is a unique language. Language inherent in perpetuating certain ideas and blocking out other ideas.

    That’s why simple English is an important litmus test.

    No buzz words. No redefined common words that mean something completely different to the speaker than to you. No lofty proclamations about humanity. No ‘you have to read this obscure thesis about _____ (fill in the blank)’ — especially about the meaning of a buzzword. Simple, “Hey, this is what I am talking about” language.

    Can the person do it? This is not a trap, nor is it an unrealistic request. Because if there really is something there, the person will be able to do it. If they spin off into a screed about themselves, history, giant ‘causes,’ insults, or “it’s not my job to educate you” then pop the red flags. Things aren’t kosher.

    Also important, is there outside sources to support and verify what they are saying? For example, if someone is going on about ‘his people’ dying on the job you can go look up trends in workplace deaths at the bureau of labor statistics and OSHA. You don't want vague statistics from unknown sources. For verification you want hard numbers from a reliable source. Be cautious about grandiose claims about society — especially when the whole ‘proof’ only exist in one squishy field and relies on buzzwords and academic concepts as the proof. (Como se de se, “self-eating watermelon?”)

    Fifth— Take it home and unpack it.

    By that I mean take your time and examine the ideas from several perspectives with access to research capabilities. That last is where most your labor is going to be.

    Look into certain fields to understand how they work, what are common practices and factors. This is EXTREMELY important because often what is unquestionable proof of "X" from one perspective is more a "That is how it works in that business. " Also if you can talk with someone in that field and ask. (Usually people telling you it’s “X” aren’t in that field.) When you talk to someone in the field, you'll typically get confirmation, 'this is why' factors, or "That's not how it works at all." Often when they tell you ‘how it works’ that's a far better explanation for the problem than a grandiose claim of “X.”

    (I call this the "Ghost Hunters Approach." One of the earlier paranormal shows had a couple of plumbers and part-time paranormal investigators. I liked the show because they would go into a house first looking for physical causes for reported supernatural events. “Yeah, that spooky thumping you're hearing down in the basement? Your hot water pipe is missing two brackets here and here. The pipe sways and thumps.” Moving on to the next ‘paranormal' event.)

    Also, spend some time looking into some foundational subjects about how humanity ticks.This is just as important as having a passing knowledge of a professional field before you accept someone's 'proof 'about how things work' but this time, you're looking at how humanity 'ticks.' For example the last subjects I dove into were Moral Foundation Theory and Time Perspective Theory. Them thar r sum powerful ideeas. Ones that you'll get major insights into where people are coming from and how their perspectives influence their thinking. All you have to do is run their ideology past these ideas.

When you do that A - All kinds of light bulbs go off (in the positive sense of "Oh, that's what they're talking about!) B - You'll be able to spot where what they are saying is consistent with known human behaviors ("Yeah, that checks out.") C - You'll begin to see where a person is hung up on and/or is weaponizing an ideology D - You'll often see holes in the idea you could build freeways through.

(A taste of this idea in practice: #1 -- Time Perspective Theory [TPT]. Basically, people both look at time differently and tend to get hung up on certain time zones in their 'thinking.' Some are past positive [the good old days]. Some are past negative [this terrible thing happened to me/us]. Some are present hedonist [live for the moment]. Some are present fatalist [it sucks and it won't change]. Some are future goal oriented [college/career/etc]. Some take future orientation to the point of being transcendental [go to heaven/create a social utopia]. These different orientations have powerful influence on one's perspective, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. #2 — Run an ideology past TPT and see what it reveals. An ideology may claim to be future oriented, but is actually stuck in past negative. Many victim/grievance narratives are. Or it can be so focused on the future that it’s disconnected from present reality. When you march it by the TPT you’ll also start seeing what they emphasize/use to justify their behavior/dismiss other perspectives. Believe me when I tell you running an ideology through the filter of TPT helps to spot the people who will NEVER be happy no matter what is done to 'fix things.'     This multiple perspective process can be understood as YOU running an idea through multiple filters. It’s a good habit to develop because when you run an idea through a particular filter (e.g., a moralistic thinking one) you will come up with a clear cut solid self-evident answer. It will check out... from that perspective. But from that one perspective, you can't see other factors.That’s why it’s important to run it through other sets of filters. Doing that will give you a different ‘clear and definite answer.’ The fact that the two answers are both self-evident and contradictory tells you things aren’t as simple as you’d like them to be. (That’s both life and actual intellectualism, get used to it.)

    At the same time you’ll be able to immediately spot when someone is approaching the subject from only one point of view. Like bonfire on the beach easy to ‘spot.’

    Sixth— Check for crazy. Seriously.

    I know a shrink who likes to say "There's a presumption of sanity in this culture." She then goes onto explain that, in this culture, when we meet someone we grant them the courtesy of assuming they are sane. That is a hell of a insight. Often when our assumptions don't match reality we get seriously pissed and blame the other person for not living up to our expectation about their sanity. Wait, what?     At the same time, we often wrongly condemn a different way of thinking as proof of ‘crazy.’ As someone recently pointed out, "There's a lot more irrationality than crazy in the world, and the former is often misconstrued as the latter." That is very true. Also true is there is a whole lot of crazy out there.

    I'm going to go back a few decades. Something that was a well known and common indicator for mental illness is strong religious ‘fervor.' (Go watch Peter O'Toole in "The Ruling Class.") It was and still is a red flag for a wide variety of mental conditions. When you see zealotry, start looking for mental issues. Recognize that religious doctrine can give organization to (and be used as justification) for crazy behavior. Basically here's this big idea. Something-so-big- you -can't -argue -against-it behind what the crazy person is spouting, so – ipso facto – they’re not crazy. It’s God’s will and you can’t question it.

    Now before any atheists start crowing about religious nuts; you ever thought about applying that same idea to social ideologies? (Including militant atheism?)

     ‘Cause I got some bad news for ya. You can be just as fanatical over a secular ideology and just as nuts. I’ve talked to a whole lot of people with different opinions and agendas – especially social causes. I’ve spoken with calm folks and I’ve spoken with intense folks. You know what typically and eventually comes out when dealing with the more fervent?

    They’ve been diagnosed with some mental condition.

    I’m talking about freely admitting a diagnosis, if not self-identifying as ________. Ummm wait, what? Yes. Mentally unwell people are just as attracted to today's social movements as they were to religion in times past. That's where you're going to run into a serious red flag. It used to be "God's Word" that empowered them and made what they say unquestionable. Now days it's whatever ideology they've embraced. Their mental condition is not important, the 'Cause' is truth. Yes they’re bi-polar, so what? A borderline personality disorder, what does that matter? PTSD? Gender dysphoria? ‘That doesn’t affect the truth of what they are saying.’ (Yeah, right, sure.) Another variation is that it's the seriousness of the social wrong that is behind their intensity, not know, that they're emotionally unstable or in a manic phase.

   Now I'm not saying you should start with the idea that someone is nuts. But our culture does have a much higher incidence of mental instability than other cultures. Then add there’s a tendency to gravitate towards and gather. While rare in the overall population, there are pockets and concentrations. (It’s estimated that upwards of 50% of our prison population has some kind of mental illness or issues.) Mass movements, causes and religion are such pockets. With that in mind, a good rule of thumb is the more fanatical about an ideology someone is the higher the ratio of DSM-V identified issues.

    That's why this is a two part process. Stage one, we have to take one step back and first ask, “Is the idea out-to-lunch?” Some ideas are, in fact, totally divorced from reality from the git go. It’s not just the person. For example do you know there are certain ‘areas’ in gender studies that insist there is no differences between men and women? (I’ll let that one sink in for a moment.) True believers will rabidly insist there’s no difference in biology, neurology or physical capability. (Never mind the world weight lifting record for a man is 586 pounds and for a woman it is 425 pounds.) It’s all social constructs and us buying into culturally driven gender stereotypes, yada, yada, yada. Thing is this ‘theory’ is taught in college. So the person who believes it, supposedly has credibility by association. Oh and something you should know, but you won't easily find until you really dig deep into the topic. That is how often the founder of the idea/movement wasn't too tightly wrapped or—as is often the case—a horrible and deplorable person. So yeah, an idea can be cray-cray from the start.

    Stage two is we move onto is there mental illness with the follower. Among the more radical, the answer is usually ‘yes.’ For the record, I have never encountered anyone who believes the 'no difference between sexes' idea who also doesn’t self-identify as having a professionally diagnosed, DSM-V recognized issue. They may exist, but I haven’t met them.

    This is not a dismissal of an idea just because a follower is nuts. However, when you are honestly trying to understand a position, it kind of helps to factor in that the person who is so fervently pushing this ‘truth’ might be a few cards short of a full deck. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance there’ll come a point where what they are saying veers away from rational understanding. Yes, it could be the idea itself, but more likely it’s their interpretation of the idea that’s skewed. It's useful to be able to make that distinction.

    Know about the crazy factor so you can see it approaching on the horizon -- especially when it’s speeding towards you. Oh by the way, it also helps to be able to spot the difference between legitimate anger over an issue and ingrained — if not pathological —hatred that’s justified by an ideology. Just sayin’.

    Seventh —The Uncle Bob Test.

    Ideologues like to talk about big ideas, especially when it comes to grandiose claims about human behavior. Uncle Bob is a fast test to reveal a disconnect between an ideology and reality. If someone is taking about something that is supposed to be a human trait — or hell, even a social construct — doesn’t it make sense that it’s easily recognizable by ...oh I dunno... people? And if it’s not understandable to the average person, exactly how accurate can the idea be about the whole of humanity? Or again, society.

    To give you an example, I often talk about deep human wiring and behavior surrounding conflict and violence. There are certain behaviors that reliably lead to violence. After just a few sentences of sketching out some really deep concepts I usually get a “Oh I know what you’re talking about. My Uncle Bob does that.”

    Thus was born the "Uncle Bob Test."

    That’s what’s bothered me about so much of today’s ideologies and rhetoric. Human behavior shouldn’t be hard for humans to understand. Yet with much of it you have to have spent four years being indoctrinated ...excuse me ‘educated’ before it becomes an obvious truth. Other times it’s an accepted truth/paradigm in a subculture; sometimes to the point of having to be born into and raised with it. Sure it’s a obvious truth then. Otherwise you can’t understand it. (Often you’ll even be told that by someone who does believe it.) Except when that’s your perspective anyone not like you looks at you like you’re an alien — especially when you’re talking about them and how they think. (A good example of this is when an academic tries to 'explain' poverty to poor people.)

    This kind of cognitive disconnect means one of two things. One you’re living on completely different planets and talking about different species. Or two, that particular version of 'universal truth' isn’t all that universal.

    Remember that point about 'simple' language? Always run the Uncle Bob test with people who have tried to redefine common words to mean something else. Take for example the new and improved definition of racism. The old definition ran along the lines of blindly hating someone and thinking you’re superior because of race, religion and nationality. Okay you can see Bob doing that.

    But can you really see him doing the systematic and institutionalized oppression, denial of civil rights and economic discrimination of people of color resulting in material and cultural advantages conferred on a majority by privileged white elites? Because, that’s the new and improved 'definition' of racism used by many. According to this version, even though Bob drives a truck for the regional supermarket chain he and his family are racist elites. (In case you’re having trouble getting your head around that. know a) it doesn’t make any sense to anybody who is white and is getting screwed by the same system and b) you either have to be born into the correct race or be educated in the proper fields before it makes sense. Yes, I’ve seen it taken this far and beyond.)

    Now does that mean there aren’t very real problems and issues that need to be addressed in society? Not at all. We certainly do need to sit down and talk with each other and find solutions. But see, the key word in that last sentence is ‘with.’ We’ve had enough talking at each other. Except the extremists of sides want to keep that from happening so they redefine the problem to where there is no possible solution—except theirs. More than that, they don't want discussion, their strategy is to shut down conversation—even if they have to get up in your face and scream.

    Also a a free tip, watch for people who won’t let you bring critical issues to the conversation. That’s another way of controlling the definition of the problem (and keep it only being run through one filter). This is another use for Uncle Bob. Would Bob understand how that isn’t part of the problem? Take for example the argument that the criminal behavior (records) and gang affiliations of homicide ‘victims’ has nothing with gun deaths. If Uncle Bob wouldn’t buy it, don’t you —even if you think you’re smarter than him.

    Eighth — Listen more than once.

    Okay so you may need to take some Pepcid AC with you for this. But remember I said keep an eye out for crazy? Well this allows you to filter for that as well as making sure you get the whole picture.But it's more than that. Often an individual can’t explain an idea very well and by talking to several people you get different variations of the same perspective. This is useful when someone can’t explain an aspect well, but that other person can. Many a time I’ve had things— things that didn’t make sense before— click when someone else explained it. (Usually because the first person didn’t understand it fully.)

    The flip side of this coin, is after you’ve listened a few times, you’re under no obligation to hear the same thing over and over again—especially if you’ve decided the idea is bullshit. (That’s why the unpacking is important). “I’ve heard the argument you’re using before, and it was as full of holes the first five times as it is now.”

    Just so you know, people who demand that you listen, take to their heels when you can can recite their own argument back to them and then proceed to explain why it doesn’t work outside a very narrow perspective. Usually they haven’t really thought about it, they’re just parroting. They bug out because someone who has thought about it is out of their league. (In case you missed the implication, a lot of this behavior boils down to bullying.)

    Ninth — Don’t be afraid to acknowledge validity (or un-workability) of an idea.

More than that, don’t be afraid to admit some points are really good. If you’ve done your homework you’ll see them. There’s more than a few. However, that doesn’t mean you have to accept the entire philosophy. Just because something has 25% good points, those don’t outweigh the 75% that’s off. In the same vein, just because something has a 25% off rate doesn’t make it complete BS.

    Also feel free to admit ‘you can’t get there from here.’ There are some ideas that sound really good, but because of technology, cost or human nature, they just won’t work.

    Tenth — Agree to disagree

    You don’t have to debate, you can do dialectic. You don’t know the difference? A debate means you’re trying to win. So is the other person. It’s really easy to get ego involved and when you run out of intellectual steam get emotional, nasty and angry. A dialectic is when two people who think differently discuss those positions to find a deeper truth than either. You’ll find the latter a lot more useful than winning. You’ll definitely learn more.

    Thing is you can be friends with people who hold different opinions than you. If not that, at least friendly with. The trick is learning to agree to disagree. This is a particular topic you either don’t talk about it from then on or are particularly respectful and polite when you do discuss it. (I mean hey if the Republican spinmiester and Democrat spinmiester can be married...)

    And if that doesn’t work, well you tried. Besides do you really want someone in your life who can’t behave themselves?

    So there it is a list of ten things you can do to see the other person’s perspective. Now you may have noticed that there are some things I didn’t mention. Like how do you tell the person your point of view?

Really do you have to?

And if you still feel the need I’m going to recommend you take everything I have said and apply it to yourself and your own ideology. It’s a lot easier to find the holes in your own ideals before you get all gung ho about showing someone you’re right only to discover a freeway sized hole in what you’re saying. M

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