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.