May 11, 2018

Kneejerk Opinions

I was going to link to this back when I heard it. But the episode had some propagation issues and I promptly forgot about it. Anyway, I got reminded about it today when talking to my mom.

You really owe it to yourself to listen to this episode of The Menu Bar, Going Where the Conversation Isn’t. It’s an interview with Robin Hanson where they talk about the hidden motives behind our actions as human beings. Ideas which Hanson writes more about in his book The Elephant in the Brain (haven’t read — yet).

The things they talk about really made me reflect a lot on how I act, often instinctively, in ways my conscious self don’t really agree with. I hope to become more aware of my actions. I want to stop acting so instinctively (in everyday conversations etc) and get better at pausing and considering my next move before making it. Something I’m terrible at, much to my wives chagrin (and rightfully so — I’m an ass sometimes).

This bit towards the end, in particular struck a chord for me. Here’s a rough transcription:

Hanson: Certainly in relationships nerdy people, like myself early in life, when a person that we’re interacting with asks us to do things, or asks us to compromise in various ways we’re tempted to come back with arguments of why that’s not a good thing to do. And once you realize that often the subtext is just: “please do things my way to show me that you care about me”. You might just realize that you should just compromise sometimes, it doesn’t matter whether they have a good or bad argument. They’re just asking you let them do things their way sometimes. And just give it to them sometimes. You’re just less worried about the details of these things. It can be innate, empowering and relaxing to realize that many of the things that we think we care about are really less important than they seem.

Zac: So I think that the main take away is that we should hold less opinions. Or not even hold less opinions but to not have these knee-jerk reactions to everything where we feel that we must have an opinion about everything immediately. That maybe we should fight this urge or impulse a little bit. And try to take a moment to breath, and think. Think through all of the factors involved in the thing that we think we have an opinion about.

Hanson: So, what are conversations about? When you’re in the heat of a conversation you might think they made a point and I have a counter argument but I haven’t had a chance to mention it and there’s gonna be a mistake made here. Or they could be assuming that I think this but I haven’t clarified that I really don’t think this and you’re really concerned that you haven’t had the chance to make that clarification. Or another topic came up and other people expressed their opinion, you haven’t expressed your opinion. They might think I don’t have an opinion or that I’m stupid or I don’t care.

I think a lot of people in our business could benefit from this. Having strong opinions and making sure everyone has heard them is a sickness among developers, especially male ones. I for one need to become more humble, and not be afraid of saying “I don’t know” instead of guy-guessing.

The latest episode, at the time of writing, was also really interesting. A Theory of Everything where they discuss Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory.