Isabel Villegas is a senior studying Politics & International Relations and Spanish

(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.)

In today’s highly polarized society, it has become increasingly common to critique the “other” and simply dismiss their views as outdated, close-minded, or otherwise intolerable. Incessant arguments about a myriad of issues both controversial and insignificant abound on social media platforms, political arenas, the workplace and educational spheres alike, with no real progress or true understanding ever seeming to be made. Moreover, the rapidly-changing nature of the world in the information age means that new knowledge and competing ideas are constantly being developed, with or without individuals consciously realizing it. As an organizational psychologist well versed in interpersonal conflict and aware of the capabilities of the human mind, Adam Grant attempts to reconcile these tensions in his book Think Again, while also somewhat brashly challenging individuals to become uncomfortable and wrestle with their own beliefs and convictions, for better or for worse.

As the title would suggest, the piece calls readers to rethink the way in which their brains process information and engage in dialogue and disagreements with others. A key point Grant makes throughout the book is the importance of thinking like a scientist (20). Too often, individuals cling to their beliefs, without bothering to critically assess them or fully process information that is in contradiction with them. Individuals find themselves stubbornly closing off their minds to new information, or simply spewing their own perspectives at others, failing to truly listen to the other side. Grant challenges readers to instead “test” new ideas as a scientist would, taking in all the necessary knowledge and allowing the brain to truly digest and process it, which first requires building an awareness of and surrendering biases that may impede this process (25). In other words, individuals must motivate themselves to expand their minds and have their intellect sharpened.

Grant makes a number of valid points throughout his book, but those that perhaps are the most compelling and important relate to the dismantling of stereotypes. In chapter six, Grant states that “the most effective way to help people pull the unsteady Jenga blocks out of their stereotype towers is to talk with them in person.” To illustrate this point, Grant tells the story of a black musician named Daryl Davis who encountered and interacted with a member of the KKK. Through patient, and open-ended conversations, Davis was able to support and help the Klansman realize the danger of his beliefs, and the profound prejudice behind them. Eventually, the man left the Klan, and renounced his archaic views altogether (139-141). While this story certainly is heartfelt, the more important point Grant tries to make is the importance of dialogue in helping to reshape perspectives. Too often, individuals attempt to change the minds of others through arguments or by shaming those with contrasting beliefs. Davis, Grant points out, did almost the exact opposite, by engaging in dialogue that caused the Klansman to think for himself and critically reflect on his own beliefs. This way, suggests Grant, is how we ought to approach interpersonal disagreements. Face- to-face conversations done in this manner have the capacity to make profound impact in a world that is increasingly digitally divided.

At times in Think Again, it may seem as though Grant takes issue with conviction as a whole. Throughout the book one gets the sense that he is calling readers to constantly question and challenge all their beliefs and ideas. However, there is still something to be said for the importance of enduring conviction, which Grant seems to simply brush over in his piece. Although likely not his intent, for those who hold certain deeply held moral or religious convictions, Grant’s call to challenge every belief might seem a little insensitive or harsh at times. Ultimately though, one can recognize and appreciate that he is simply encouraging individuals to discern why they believe what they do, rather than simply accepting a doctrine at face-value without any critical thinking involved.

Nevertheless, Think Again still serves as a beneficial read, particularly for students of politics. Throughout the book Grant offers a number of helpful and insightful advice on how to engage in debates and disagreements in a way that emphasizes the common ground held between individuals first and foremost. More importantly though, the book calls readers to examine the logs in their own eyes and humbly reassess their own beliefs. Moreover, while Grant’s challenge to question everything that one is told can sometimes seem daunting, particularly for those with strongly held convictions, one can still recognize the importance of knowing why they believe what they do, even if it requires some personal strife and doubt at times.

In regard to the realm of politics, it is a field far too often dominated by hot-headedness and a lack of willingness to pursue true bipartisanship. Grant teaches readers and students of politics however how to approach disagreements in a way that not only produces personal growth but also seeks collective unity and reconciliation. By no means Grant’s advice always simple to follow, yet his book as a whole still serves as a meaningful foundation for improved dialogue and problem solving for those seeking to serve in the public sphere and seek the common good.


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