The habits of a free mind

Engaging our ideological opponents, Civil Squared Podcast, and 5 links worth your time 

These comments were recently posted to one of our Facebook ads. So, which are you: fanatic or wackadoo?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that you are neither.

Engaging our ideological opponents

If we can no longer reason with those who are ideologically different than us, what kinds of conversations will remain?

For our most recent episode of the Civil Squared Podcast, I talked with Dr. Pamela Paresky, a psychologist and author who teaches at the University of Chicago. Dr. Paresky directs a project called “The Habits of a Free Mind.”

If we want a free society and all the benefits that go along with that, she says “we need to be able to engage with our ideological opponents in ways in which we get the best thinking from them and they get the best thinking from us.”

“Fanatics” and “Wackadoos”

We face a lot of challenges in our country and, as those challenges become more complicated, we need more  creative solutions. In your own experience, when are you most creative: when everyone around you tells you how right you are or when you’re faced with a challenge or critical feedback? There’s nothing wrong with having others supporting and encouraging us, but we’re often at our most entrepreneurial when we’re trying to problem solve.

But if someone labels me (or anyone who believes the same things I do) a “fanatic” or “wackadoo,” I’m not especially enthusiastic about engaging in discussion with that person. Why waste time talking with someone who resorts to name-calling?

Curiosity is the cure

If someone says something with which I strongly disagree, it’s pretty hard to just sit back and listen with an open mind. I myself may be guilty of thinking something along the lines of “What a wackadoo!” or “That guy is a real fanatic!” in those situations.

How, then, do I have productive disagreements with ideological opponents?

Dr. Paresky answers that question in the episode linked below, but I’ll give you a preview. She recommends that, when facing people with whom we disagree, we recognize that they probably think about themselves the same way we think about ourselves: they care deeply about the people in their lives, they want the best for those people, and they’re unlikely to be evil. Once we remind ourselves of that, the next step is to ask, “How could they possibly have arrived at this conclusion?”

Curiosity about the answer to that question can go a long way to making our disagreement more productive. You don’t even have to give your ideological opponent the benefit of the doubt: you can believe she is wrong and still be curious enough about the answer that you can have a meaningful discussion.

This week, I invite you to listen to my conversation with Pamela on the Civil Squared Podcast and hear all the great practical tips she has to offer about disagreement. We’re using our five links to share several of Pamela’s articles and a few recent episodes of our podcast, and if you subscribe wherever you listen, you’ll always get new episodes when they’re released.

I hope you’ll find plenty to discuss – with people who agree with you and with those that don’t!

5 more links worth your time

  1. We Need the Habits of a Free Mind to Think Through This Crisis — Together, ARC Digital – Pamela Paresky outlines the “habits of a free mind” and explains why they are so crucial to addressing the challenges of our current situation.

  2. Safetyism Isn’t the Problem: We need to see beyond the stereotypes on both sides of the reopening debate, New York Times – In the debate about re-opening, whether businesses or schools, if we “interact only with those who think like we do, not only do we fail to see the value in our opposition’s perspective, but our own views tend to become more polarized and extreme.” Pamela Paresky and Bradley Campbell encourage us to discuss difficult issues with people who disagree with us.

  3. Broadening the Horizons of Innovation, Civil Squared Podcast – How can we change public policy for the better to expand the horizons of innovative freedom? We talk with Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center. Adam’s work focuses on innovation, entrepreneurialism, Internet and free-speech issues. We consider how innovation and entrepreneurship have been affected by the pandemic.

  4. Protests and Social Change, Civil Squared Podcast – Are protests more likely during election years? How does the economy affect the likelihood of protesting? Fabio Rojas, professor of sociology at Indiana University, studies social movements, higher education, and health. Our conversation looks at how sociology can help us better understand ourselves and current events.

  5. Why Crisis Management Matters for Freedom, Civil Squared Podcast – How did partisan polarization affect our response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Stanford professor and Hoover Institution senior fellow Larry Diamond talks with us about democracy, COVID-19, and crisis management.