Looking back at my post from yesterday, I’d like to say that I really don’t see curiosity as being mutually exclusive to critical thinking skills, although my post (written in a hot and crowded room when I was in a bad mood) could be interpreted that way. After all, as Walter Kotschnig said, “Keep your minds open but not so open that your brains fall out.”
This morning, in a cooler, quieter place, it struck me that the idea that managers earn and deserve their tens of million in compensation could be a good point to practice Inquiry on. Some possible questions:
Data selection step
- What cases are you thinking of?
- What criteria for determining compensation are you using?
- How do you see the job, skill set, contribution, etc., of top managers?
- What are you comparing their responsibilities to?
Adding meanings step
- What do you think happens when those amounts of compensation are not paid?
- How do you see the connection between the skill set and so on and the amounts paid?
Drawing conclusions step
- What do people get paid for? or Why do companies pay salaries?
Taking action step
- How can we establish appropriate pay scales, in your opinion?
- What systems can we set up to make that work?
With special thanks to Quote Investigator for the original source of that quotation: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/04/13/open-mind/ I thought erroneously that it was from Carl Sagan.
Something that makes Inquiry difficult for me is when the other person treats my points as baseless and ridiculous and implies that I am naive for thinking the way I do.
I know that Inquiry could help here. I could come across as mature and truly constructive, but as surely as Zidane rose to Materazzi’s bait at the 2006 World Cup so do I rise.
Back to the drawing board …
Yesterday I listened to someone with an open mind on a subject I see differently, on the refugee situation in Europe. (In other words, I practiced interpersonal curiosity.)
It’s not exactly that I disagree with what she said but that she said something so far removed from what I had heard or considered on the subject before that it was a leap for me. She comes from southeastern Europe, a part of the continent much closer to the action than Vienna, and her country has a long history of being dominated by the Ottoman Empire and others. This means she sees the influx of refugees from Muslim countries as much more threatening that I do, citing a centuries-long attempt on the part of Muslim countries to dominate or even topple Europe, the number of children Muslim families tend to have in comparison to native European families, and the sudden increase of refugees. She sees a deliberate plan behind this to finally succeed at dominating and perhaps even eradicating European culture.
From someone else (this is actually an important point) I probably wouldn’t take this seriously, but I’ve known the person for a long time and respect her intellect and emotional intelligence greatly. I feel I learned something by listening to her. I still don’t see the situation the way she does, but hearing what she had to say did broaden my perspective.
In some ways–as my German-speaking friends could tell you–this blog is specifically about openness, a particular form of curiosity. (My definition of curiosity doesn’t really fit the definition of Neugierde, the German word offered in dictionaries as the equivalent of curiosity.) And suddenly my interest in the topic has become clearer. I realized in college (many, many years ago) how difficult true openness is and how, often, the people who speak most vociferously about being open are, in fact, quite intolerant. They have a tendency to write off anyone who sees the world differently from them, just as the rest of us do.
So what are we to do? How are we to get along with each other when there are so many different ways of seeing what is right or desireable? I continue to think that curiosity practiced about other people and other worldviews is one very powerful way. It’s just a lot easier in theory than in practice!
Here is an article that makes the point that Trump won because college-educated Americans are out of touch. No big surprises, and I don’t agree with everything he writes, but he makes a strong case for interpersonal curiosity on an institutionalized level, i.e., understanding in a whole organization what the other people think and how they feel.
Today the presidential election is taking place in the United States of America. The thing that has most upset me about the campaigns has been the polarization of a people. So much makes this obvious every day. Recent news reports state that big changes in who is voting for whom are no longer expected. People are entrenched. On Sunday The Boston Globe ran two front page stories in which they went to one community in Massachusetts where Clinton is clearly ahead and one community in West Virginia where Trump is clearly ahead and asked what people feared most if the other person won. The answers were practically identical—corruption, economic disaster, and war—and in both cases they thought their candidate was the only way to avoid those things. A TV news report a week or two ago, I think on the BBC, showed the same thing. Even Facebook posts that show up on my news feed support this picture. Neither group shows any curiosity—God forbid they should show any understanding—as to why the people on the other side are voting for their candidate. This is truly the path to ruin.
What struck me recently in a discussion I had about abortion rights is (a) how much we can learn about the multiple facets of an issue by listening to why other people believe what they believe and (b) how that then requires us to look beyond whether something is simply right or wrong. It requires us to see things in more nuanced and complex ways—which is much more challenging, can be distinctly uncomfortable, and yet is the only way to reach some kind of resolution that most people can live with. We do all share the country (and, ultimately, the planet) after all.
As I have written elsewhere, curiosity is, of course, not enough to solve the immense challenges and disagreements we are facing. It does seem to me, however, that without a desire to learn about other people and why they hold their views—without that kind of curiosity—we can’t even get started because we are all pulling as hard as we can in opposite directions.
Today I did it. When I started to get into a wrangle with a friend (oddly, about what constitutes proper business attire in the state of Vermont), I stopped, composed myself, and started practicing Inquiry. I didn’t make it through the whole Ladder of Inference, but I managed the Data Selection step asking, “What examples do you have in mind?” At first she didn’t want to continue the conversation (I can only think that something in my tone of voice was more challenging then I meant it to be—remember, Inquiry is above all a state of mind). However, when I said I really wanted to know, she told me she was thinking of people who have made a success of their small businesses and been written up in Vermont Life. I didn’t feel the need to go further because that already cleared up for me why we disagreed. I was drawing on a different pool of small businesspeople but could understand immediately why her selection made sense to her. A small success! 🙂