Senior Alyssa Reiff majors in Politics and International Relations


(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.)


The question posed by Adam Grant’s Think Again is knowing when to think again. Grant defines ‘thinking again’ as the ability to let go of ideas when they are not serving you anymore (12). This process encourages people to identify what they believe and more seriously consider the beliefs of another; although, it can become detrimental when it inspires the constant deconstruction of values and beliefs core to a person’s identity. Rather, people must learn to humbly articulate what they believe and be willing to listen to the beliefs of others.

The ability to admit you may be wrong is essential in order for a change in beliefs to occur, which is only possible through humility. Humility comes from having an accurate view of your understanding and being willing to admit what you don’t know (118-19). Daryl, an African American musician, embodied humility, and willingness to develop relationships had huge ripple effects (141). For Daryl, this looked like understanding that the behaviors and beliefs of these members of the KKK reflected something deeper about where they came from. Daryl approached those relationships with the knowledge that he did not know everything about them and that motivated his curiosity in conversation with them. Unknowingly, Daryl had harnessed the power of motivational interviewing (148). Grant promotes this, saying “Yet the most effective way to help others open their minds is often to listen” (151). To trust another’s ability to engage in self-discovery requires a certain level of humility. “The objective is not to be a leader or a follower, but a guide”, Grant adds (153). We must realize that we never have the ability to change someone’s mind–only they can do that–and we must understand that it is a special and rare thing if we have the privilege of helping them along in the process.

A caution to Grant’s invitation to ‘think again’ is that not all beliefs should be deconstructed. Some solid sense of identity is required in order to go on questioning. It is necessary to have some core values or beliefs to engage and make decisions within culture, which is relative and always changing.  In the last paragraph of his Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis describes the challenge Grant’s inquisition of values may pose:

You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

There must be something solid, something that we know to be true to give us a sense of stability and inform our identity. Grant touches on this idea when he discusses the difference in response to change from major phone companies BlackBerry and Apple. BlackBerry creator Mike Lazardidis refused to rethink his product and adapt it to better serve the culture it was in. On the other hand, Apple chose to expand the limits of what the iPod was capable of by creating the iPhone. Steve Jobs was hesitant to make this change because Apple was first and foremost a computer company. How they managed to adapt where BlackBerry did not was through a simple philosophy: rethink the technology, preserve the DNA. “Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure” (31). Grant’s writing should encourage us to look at all the beliefs we hold. They may not all need to be challenged, probed, and prodded, but we should never be afraid to identify what we believe and why.

Grant’s invitation to ‘think again’ is incredibly beneficial in political thought as it promotes healthier dialogue around the things people care about the most. Everyday political conversation would bode much fairer if people embodied the humble willingness to learn that Grant describes. Additionally, presidential debates would go a lot smoother. The 2020 Presidential Debate held on September 30th was the perfect example of where politicians could learn from Grant. The debate was neither productive nor pleasant to watch. Tom Jones (2020) summarized the debate in a couple phrases “Constant interruptions. Constant talking over one another. Name-calling. Juvenile bickering.”. Is this what we are to expect from our highest ranking politicians? Our country’s representatives?

The debate highlighted the need for the thoughtful strategies Grant recommends, including: confident humility, listening, and acknowledging common ground. Harish, an expert debater who took on a computer about preschool subsidies, gave this advice: “You should be willing to listen to what someone else is saying and give them a lot of credit for it. It makes you sound like a reasonable person who is taking everything into account” (107). In debates like the 2020 Presidential debate, and similar ones one might have at the dinner table, the actual seeking for a solution to real, complex problems gets lost in the pride and passion of the two debaters. If politicians were able to model what it looks like to have a learning posture and collaborate with people they disagree with, it may be easier for their constituents to do the same. This poses another interesting question: what can I do, as a constituent myself, to encourage this kind of behavior? How can I create spaces for productive debate in my own life?

Grant’s book is an invitation to take inventory of the beliefs you hold. What people, experiences, and knowledge shaped them? How do these beliefs inform your decisions? Your conversations? It could be that we feel compelled to ‘think again’ and reconsider an idea or belief we have. Yet, we must remember there are many beliefs worth holding onto. We must be vigilant that our consideration of our beliefs is not merely a guise for cynicism. Cynicism renders all beliefs null. Still, we are responsible to know what we believe, be able to connect it to our outward behaviors, and humbly accept where we err. This kind of examination might just draw us into deeper appreciation and understanding of ourselves and others and the things we each care about most.


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