How To Use The Election To Sharpen Your Mind And Business Skills

"When we both hold and question our truths we become lifelong learners rather than absolute knowers...Not seduced by certainty, we can be open to the truth."—Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, by Irwin Kula.

Okay, it’s almost election time, folks. The debates are concluded. Undecideds are deciding. Early birds are mailing in their ballots. Now is an excellent time to evaluate the health of your own open-mindedness. Do you really believe the other candidate is a dishonest liar? Is he a craven, self-interested captive of special interests? Do you think the other party (the one you’re voting against) has absolutely no leg to stand on, and might even damage the country?

In the e-social era we can easily choose to associate solely with those who agree with us. If we want reinforcement for our point of view, it’s ours with a mouse click. Want ammunition to disparage the other side? One or two key-word searches should do it.

No matter how strong your opinion is, however, Rabbi Kula’s words of wisdom are still wise. Life is messy. No one has a monopoly on the truth (even you, dear reader). And no matter which side you’re on, here’s a newsflash: The other side might win!

This presidential election, more than many others, represents a significant clash of fundamental worldviews. So I have a suggestion for how you can use the drama of this very election to improve your own personal business and social skills, in the e-social era. I suggest you should use your political passion, whatever it is, to develop a practiced, purposeful open-mindedness. Use this election to refine and enhance your ability to remain open-minded in the face of conflicting views.

Practice: Seek out someone who will be voting for the other side, and have a serious, engaging discussion with them. See if you can argue their side, not your side. Do your best to grasp their own worldview. Don’t spend time disagreeing with them. Just inquire. Then inquire again. I know their point of view will seem absurd, given what you already know, but it must have something to say for it because roughly half the country is on their side. So, if you had to build the strongest possible case not for your own candidate but for the other guy, what issues would you choose? What accomplishments or talents (for the other guy) could you point to? Try to understand what they hate about your candidate. You already know your own candidate’s record and position, but do you really know the other side? You don’t have to believe it yourself (that might not be possible), but how close do you think you can come to really understanding how someone else could believe it? (And can you get in touch with their passion?)

The purpose of this exercise is to see how difficult it is to hold two contradictory notions in your head simultaneously without becoming cynical or doubting your own sanity. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

The problem is, this requires practice. But with the upcoming election, and the passions it has stirred, you now face a wonderful opportunity to gain some experience in sharpening your mind. What you want is to be a skeptic, rather than an ideologue. An informed mind, rather than a True Believer.

Face it, we all have our belief systems. And none of us has ever had the genuine sensation of being wrong (if you ever conclude that you really are wrong, then you’d be right—right?). No matter who you vote for in this election, half of your fellow citizens will disagree. But sooner or later we will all have to come together and show some flexibility to get important things done. Don’t allow social media to seduce you into thinking that your own position is unassailable, because it’s not. That’s just an illusion created by the easy availability of similar points of view.

[Image: Flickr user Jason Eppink]

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2 Comments

  • Don Peppers

    Thanks for weighing in, Irwin, and you are of course absolutely correct.  It's ironic, isn't it, but often the more vehemently someone insists on a particular point of view, the more doubtful they are of it, really. Vehemence is a defense mechanism.

  • Ikula

    Whether you are voting for Obama or Romney the serious problems our country faces will not fundamentally be addressed until the polarization gives way to each of us wrestling with the partial truths of the side we most despise. Partisanship and polarization is merely masking uncertainty about our own positions. Better to own our uncertainty and learn from people with whom we deeply disagree than ever more fiercely shouting our soundbites....as we go over the cliff.