A Recent Example Of My Arrogance That You Might Learn From
The other day I found myself commenting on the motivations of voters in Northwest Michigan. It’s really okay if you don’t know much about Michigan voters, I don’t either. And yet I started a sentence with “Actually...”
My assertions weren’t out of thin air. Among other sources there were some thoughtful articles I read from a couple who travelled to a host of small towns in America to check the political temperature. Also, I know some people in Flint who have educated me on a bit of the mindset of old auto union retirees. These were bits of information that I believe are credible and somewhat accurate. I had a circle of competency about this, albeit very small. But I began connecting the dots and making definitive and simplistic statements about a host of people I knew hardly anything about and consequently stepped way outside of my area of competence. (Which is Charlie Munger’s definition of arrogance).
I was asserting that every person in an entire region voted a certain way for the exact same reason. Wow. In hindsight I would have appeared less foolish—and learned more—by asking **questions.
But our brains do not like feeling wrong, it throws a tantrum when exposed to that possibility. It arms itself with anger, offense, and quick, witty rebuttal to fend off ideas that would signify that we were incorrect. And questions are a sign of not knowing. Inversely, in the moment I felt smart and correct.
That hunger by the brain to feel correct is such a subtle deception. If you are not actively keeping tabs on it (for the rest of your life) then it is getting the best of you. My anecdotal experience leads me to theorize that most people are content to assume their current position on any topic is the correct one. And they have very happy brains, and poor conversation as a result. (I have after all spent a great time undermining the process in myself with what feels like only marginal results. Evidence above.)
How I Work At It
When I was teaching, my guitar students students made pretty silly assertions about guitar playing on a regular basis. Not just items of opinion, but things that are just patently incorrect. These are things were obvious to me because my competence in that area was significantly larger than theirs.
My own strategy to overcome this sort of deluded confidence is to find people with a significantly larger area of competence than I have in a certain area, and spend as much time talking to them as possible. The benefits of this are multiplied on the rare occasion I stick to asking questions. But most of the time I inevitably stumble into some arrogant statements that they can quickly correct me on. Either way I get to learn.
**A Word On Questions
Please do not weaponize questions. We’re all suddenly the Riddler trying to make Batman appear publicly foolish. This is not kind, and it does not expand you’re own learning.
If you are convinced something is wrong or you think you see a flaw in the thought process—just kindly say so. Better yet, ask how that person arrived at that conclusion. This is generous and makes for more interesting conversation and will ultimately save you from appearing foolish or manipulative.