Politics tap into an unusual mixture of reason and emotion. We want to have the right answer, which requires a neutral interpretation of information and events. However, it is human nature to want to feel like we have the right answer, especially when the topic is something we care deeply about.
There is a disconnect between the pure detachment required for cool-headed discussion and the often uncontrollable emotions that are part of our nature. This is why an impassioned speech can sway huge groups of individuals better than an exceptionally well-informed but detached policy paper.
Fundamentally, politics is the process by which we find ways to coexist with one another in complex societies. It’s impossible to not care about these things. We’re social creatures, and being involved with our society is a critical aspect of the human experience. When we attempt to find solutions to great social problems we can and should appeal to higher reason, but our emotional reactions are also part of this process.
Emotions are not a bad thing. They underlie many of life’s sublime experiences and can act as an aid in fast-paced situations. But, when we are confronted with situations that are difficult to anticipate or measure, emotions can act as blinders and lead us to dig in further into our existing opinions rather than approach new ideas with an open mind. Since eliminating our emotions is impossible - and not really desirable - informed political debate requires methods that account for the presence of our emotions in both conversation and contemplation.
Changing your mind can be scary, but the paradox of opinion is that we will be right more often if we are more open to being wrong. It’s inevitable that we will be wrong frequently in our lives. The best we can do is actively seek out the positions we hold that are not fully justified.
Train Your Brain
To challenge our own positions and fairly consider new ones, we need to engage certain parts of our brain. There are four mental tools that will help us do this:
- Internal Skepticism
- External Skepticism
- Internal Detachment
- External Detachment
We call these the ReConsider Principles, and we have written free guides to help you train your brain with these. Below is a preview of the first ReConsider Principles, internal skepticism. Enjoy!
Internal skepticism is the skepticism of your own thoughts, a challenging process of self-questioning that requires constant re-evaluation. This tool entails a commitment to endlessly seek new information. You must approach news and opinions with a neutral eye, recognizing that we are more inclined to reject things that conflict with our pre-existing positions.
When do I use internal skepticism?
- Anytime you spend in solitary reflection – reading, walking, or thinking
- When you find yourself quickly agreeing with someone
- When you find yourself quickly disagreeing with someone and are becoming angry or frustrated. Stop and ask yourself if it's an immediate response to being challenged or whether this person has a good point
How can I use internal skepticism?
- Regularly ask yourself: are my opinions still well supported? Or have I missed something?
- Actively seek out information that contradicts your positions
- Engage with people who disagree with you
- Question your own sources of information – by understanding biases that your sources have you may uncover some of your own
We've developed powerful guides for both thinking and talking about politics. They're free, so go download them now for your own reading, and to share with your friend sand colleagues to improve your political conversations.