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.

Just Because It’s Urgent Doesn’t Mean It’s Important

Stephen Covey describes in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People an important principle that can be used to prioritize tasks effectively.

He wrote that there were four types of tasks that can crop up on the to-do list. Here they are:

Q1 – Important and Urgent

These are things like completing job applications right on time, or revising for an imminent exam. Your brain tells you they are important because they are. They can be crises, or things that are unforeseen that temporary block the path to your goals. They are tasks that you cannot delegate because you are the only person that is able or required to do them.

Q2 – Important and Not Urgent

This is the quadrant of task that we want to strive to be doing most of the time – doing meaningful tasks without the urgency of a deadline or the stress of unforeseen incidents. Of course sometimes it is unavoidable so we will spend some time in the Q1 too. Examples of tasks that may be important but not urgent are: exercising to stay fit and healthy, quality time with loved ones, writing the book you’ve always wanted to publish, self-education, journaling, meditation, volunteer work, hobbies etc. These tasks are important in the long run, but skipping these type of tasks are easy to do. These tasks tend to either stay on our to-do list for far too long, or they are the type of task that we start once we “find the time”. These tasks also cannot be delegated.

Q3 – Urgent and Not Important

This is where we can accidentally spend too much of our time. Tasks like doing laundry, work meetings, catching up on emails. They tend to be interruptions, or people trying to pull us away from important tasks by getting us to attend to urgent tasks. We favor this type of task because we have a bias to what’s immediately in front of us, but in the long-term it takes away tasks from the previous quadrant. Think about whether these tasks need to be done, and if they do, whether they can be delegated or outsourced. Spending too much time in this quadrant can leave you feeling overworked but unfulfilled.

Q4 – Not Important and Not Urgent

Activities like watching junk TV-shows, mindless web-surfing, scrolling through social media, and playing video games are examples of this type of activity. They are neither important nor urgent, but are ways that we can sometimes use our time. The next time we think about how little time we have for Q2 activities, we can immediately look to the amount of time we are spending on Q4 activities. In the grand scheme of things, these type of activities are the ones we are likely to look back on in the future and see them as a waste of time. As much as these give us a nice big dollop of dopamine in the moment, we should limit these types of activities.

By spending more time doing important tasks we end up spending more of our lives doing things that give us meaning and fulfilment. By focusing mainly on Q2 tasks, we can know that we are checking the right boxes on our to-do list and in the right order, instead of procrastinating with trivial tasks in Q3 and Q4. If we end up making the progress we are looking for consistently, we can then truly enjoy our next Netflix-binge instead of feeling guilty about it.