Are You Ignorant of Others’ Ignorance?

Imagine someone whose beliefs oppose your own: who they will vote for in the next election, whether Brexit should have happened, whether we should have a universal basic income, whether prostitution and drugs should be legal, whether pineapple belongs on pizza etc.

We think: “Wow! What a bigoted, unpleasant, intolerant person! How could they even possibly think that they’re right!?”

But when we respond like this, we are likely to become bigoted, unpleasant, and intolerant of their bigotness, unpleasantness, and intolerance. And in turn, when we voice our strong opinions across, they could become intolerant of our intolerance to their intolerance. And the cycle gets vicious and continues on. And then we start hating each other.

So how do we break the cycle?

As difficult as it may sound, it’s to lead with compassion and seek understanding. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s fifth habit is ‘Seek to Understand, Then to Be Understood’. We see the world not as it is, but as we are – meaning that everyone sees a different picture of reality. A combination of the way that people were brought up and their environment creates a worldview that leads to different beliefs and opinions.

If we lead with curiosity instead of competition – if we begin to understand how their beliefs and opinions formed – it could make a little more sense why they would think that way, and also show the arbitrariness of their beliefs – there’s every chance that if we had the same environment as them, that we would believe most of the things they did too.

As tough as it is to accept, it’s much more conducive – as a default – to see that there’s a deeper reason that people think a certain way, instead of just labelling them as stupid, uneducated or ignorant. It would be a shame for us to be so ignorant of their ignorance.

Imposter Syndrome: How Can You Use Doubt Positively?

We’ve all been taught that doubt is bad. Doubt is weakness. Doubt means you don’t believe in yourself or your ideas. Doubt is less persuasive, doubt is insecurity.

But what about arrogance and overconfidence? A mixture of ignorance and conviction in people can be dangerous – in the past, it led to the 2008 global financial crisis and the Brexit referendum.

In his book Think Again, Adam Grant defines imposter syndrome as competence exceeding confidence. On the other side, armchair quarterback syndrome is where confidence exceeds competence. The sweet spot is somewhere in between.

However, Grant argues that it’s better to err on the side of imposter syndrome. The humility of knowing that we can be wrong and fallible would probably have prevented the disasters mentioned above. With a healthy sense of doubt, Wall Street officials maybe would have stopped contributing to a broken system of bad debt leading to the collapse of the housing market in 2008. Prime Minister David Cameron was so confident of a Remain vote in the Brexit referendum that he felt forced to resign when the public voted in the opposite direction.

A potential benefit in imposter syndrome is that it drives us to work harder and to get better. If we don’t feel like we deserve the role or adulation we have been given, we may be motivated to prove ourselves even more. More importantly, imposters seem to learn better, seek out insight from others, and have the humility to know that they don’t know everything.

In some ways, it makes more sense that confidence should come as a result of competence increasing. Personally, my confidence got shattered quite quickly when I started in sales because I thought I was going to be much better than I actually was. Because my confidence was so high to begin with, it was pretty destructive, but luckily I still had the self-belief that maybe I could improve and finally see some results.

Grant advises us to be both confident and humble. Have faith in your strengths but also be aware of your weaknesses. Be confident in yourself but also have the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present. Learning can be never-ending if you choose it to be.