Allela Girma is a senior, majoring in Politics and International Relations, as well as Economics


(This post is the next in the segment Readings in Reconciliation and focuses on Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)


Admitting the need to think again can be difficult. The first time I found myself thinking again, I was eight years old, arguing with my brother on the existence of Santa Claus. After a long and disheartening conversation, my brother ended up winning that argument. Although I did not realize it at the time, that uncomfortable and disappointed feeling was a sign of growth. We are so set in our values, and unaware of our blind spots that new knowledge is alarming because it is often at the cost of our comfort. I believe that we can master the art of thinking again by normalizing discomfort and recognizing our blind spots.

Letting go is a big theme in this book – it reiterates the idea that holding on to our most prized values can hinder our quest for knowledge. We face a dilemma between knowledge and values. In my opinion, however, the real dilemma is not a choice between values and knowledge, but between identity and knowledge. We have held on to our values so closely that they have become part of our identity, part of how we define ourselves. For this reason, letting go of our long-time beliefs or core values could feel like we are losing ourselves. Questioning our ideals could feel like shedding part of our identity, leaving us in an uncomfortable, confused state (22). To avoid feeling this way, Grants suggests that we dissociate our ideas from our identity which will make us more willing to accept new knowledge. There are many ways to separate ourselves from our ideas, but the best way, according to Grant, is to base our identity on principles that enable us to “remain open-minded” (116). Principles such as curiosity and integrity, for example, allow us to stay detach to our ideas making it easier to acquire new knowledge.

I, however, believe that Grant’s analysis is somewhat incomplete for two reasons. Firstly, I do not believe that it is humanly possible to separate our feelings, or our identity from certain core values that were established at a young age. Secondly, I think that discomfort should be embraced as it is a sign of growth. Most of our core values were learned through our families and decades of personal experience. Dissociating with those ideals is much more difficult than replacing them with new ones. The solution to this dilemma between knowledge and identity is to normalize discomfort. Understanding that it is okay to feel lost when feel as though others debunk our values, and even welcoming the discomfort that comes with “shedding our identity” (22), can bring us closer to new knowledge. Therefore, I believe the quest for knowledge should start with building a healthy relationship with discomfort rather than just replacing our values. Moreover, gaining new knowledge could be challenging partially because of this dilemma between knowledge and identity, but also because of the blind spots that stop us from knowing when to think again.

I believe that stereotypes play an essential role in the impediment of thinking again as they are active blind spots disturbing our field of view. These blind spots prevent us from seeing the humanity in one another. Grant tells us many stories of stereotypes causing violence and hatred, mostly related to the RedSox vs. Yankees examples. The most compelling part about this chapter was the concept of “counterfactual thinking…imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently” (242) if we were in someone else’s shoes helps us gain more empathy for the other. Although I agree with Grant on this statement, I do not necessarily understand why human nature is so convoluted. I have trouble accepting that it is not enough for us to see that someone is struggling or treated unfairly to recognize and acknowledge it.[1] There are many instances where we should be thinking again, especially when it comes to how we treat others, but we do not, because it seems as though our blind spots concentrate on other people’s struggles. Overall, this book left me with many interesting and useful thoughts, but the most valuable lesson I learned from Grant is to remain critical while being mindful of our listening skills.

Political Science is a complicated field that dedicates a lot of time to analyzing disagreements on a wide range of important topics. This book has made an impact on my ability to think about the field as it has shown me that good criticism comes from asking the right question, and the only way to do that is through active listening. Grant has taught me the value and importance of understanding how someone thinks, rather than just why they think the way they do. This book is a guideline for mastering the art of thinking again.


[1] I wonder – do we only have blind spots when it comes to other people’s humanity? My cousin is married to a white man, and the lovely couple just recently had their first child. Before this child was born, Paul had never thought about racism or discrimination of any kind because he never had to do so. This one night, I think it was George Floyd’s story on the news, and he changed the channel almost instantaneously, as soon as that story came on. My cousin was still pregnant at the time, and she told me that the way he changed the channel that night, it was as if he really thought that this did not concern/ affect him in any way. She had to sit him down, and explain to him that the child they are about to have might go through the same discrimination/ injustice present today. In other words, for him to really care about what was happening it had to involve him in some way? He did not care about those struggles until they were about to become his struggles as well.

I thought of this story when Grant stated, “knowing what it felt like to be disliked for ridiculous reasons helped them see that this conflict had real implications” (240). I thought, but why do you have to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” to empathize with them? I never really understood that concept. Should it not be enough to see that someone is struggling/being treated unfairly, in order to recognize/ acknowledge it? Grant also noted, “In psychology, counterfactual thinking involves imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently” (242). He said “our life”, so we have to be involved in order to recognize it (unjust/ bad behavior). In one of the experiments that Grant shared, someone even said, “If someone hated me because of the team that I loved, it would feel unfair” (239). I wonder what this issue says about human nature. We are blind to someone else’s struggles until we can imagine them being applied to our life.


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