Autumn Miller is a senior studying History and Politics & 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. Note: this segment ran in the fall, but we have added some additional posts as a result of student presentations in the 2022 Humanities Symposium.)

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist and noted as one of Fortune’s 40 under 40. His book Think Again primarily focuses on the main idea of training oneself to be able to change the way one thinks. He starts by describing the terrible disaster of the Man Gulch Fire in 1949 and the smokejumpers who lost their lives. A dismal way to approach the prologue, but Grant does provide a seedling of light with the survival of Wagner Dodge, who was one of three to make it out. Grant uses the idea to highlight Dodge survived because of his ability to think outside of the box (2). For firefighters, Grant explains it feels wrong to shed the equipment someone may need to fight fires, but it was the equipment weighing the smokejumpers down and eventually led to their demise. While a troubling way to garner the reader’s attention, it was an interesting way for Grant to present an extreme argument for why we need to be able to think again. Lives may not be at stake, but the transferable ideas are where the value lies. However, there is always caution in the application process.

A major key point imperative to pull from the text is it is okay to change one’s views. Changing views does not meant someone was wrong, but there is learning and growth done on behalf of the individual. Grant writes, “Changing your mind doesn’t make you a flip-flopper or a hypocrite. It means you were open to learning,” (102). A lot of people worry about what the outside world thinks of them and will try to stay with a belief they may not agree with so they will fit in and feel as if they belong (126). It is important to be comfortable with changing one’s beliefs, because less anxiety is created when realizing what one might believe in, no longer feels right to them. Then the experience becomes a lesson learned and the individual has grown cognitively. Grant also suggests while it is good to change our own views, we should try to persuade others to think again, which will encourage better intellectual dialogue (102). The reader is left to decide the ethics.

Grant supplies fabulous reasons for why the reader should think again, however, he also does allow for the reader to encourage others to think again as well. While the idea is great in theory, the encouragement can lead to a slippery slope of believing an individual is entitled to force others to change their thoughts if they do not agree with them. The encouragement becomes especially questionable if the individual does not go about the conversation in a civil manner and causes the opposing person to lock down and resist (104). There is no value gained from being a logic bully and forcing one’s own beliefs down the other person’s throat (104). Maintaining a logic bully stance will never produce the action desired out of the other person. The action will achieve the opposite, and often in a knee-jerk reaction with falsehoods.

Falsehoods have come to pervade the public forum, which include using grotesque stereotypes to make a point of the opponent. Grant presents a convincing argument for why stereotypes have become such a problem in the modern culture. History has always been a game of the in and the out crowd. If you were in the out crowd, then your life was marginally worse than those who fit society’s standards. As humans there is the deep motivation to belong to a larger body (126). The desire leads to group polarization which is interacting with individuals who share and affirm our beliefs, regardless of how detrimental they may be (127). It is incredibly difficult to break these stereotypes, and while Grant never explicitly mentions having empathy for the other side, in the study between the Yankee and Red Sox fans who were asked to see how arbitrary their animosity was were able to put aside their differences (134). Empathy is the most important key to breaking stereotypes in today’s world. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes will provide anyone with the perspective completely unknown to them before. Hopefully, from the experience with empathy, the aggressor learns from their mistakes and begins to understand how the other half lives.

The one part of politics that is frustrating for individuals on both sides is the lack of being able to reconsider their ideas. As the next generation, we need to be prepared to see policy issues from all sides. Sometimes the preparation requires stepping out of our normal thought patterns to “think again” about how we see the world. If both parties can try to have empathy for the other side instead of grotesquely stereotyping one another, there would not be as much gridlock in Congress as there is now. The deep tensions currently running through our country would not be there and democracy could run as modern political theorists intended. Which was to allow the people to have a say in government while encouraging the free exchange of ideas in the marketplace.


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