The perils of conviction

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

David Gurteen has an excellent post on the dangers of speaking with conviction. As I started to read it I thought to myself “oh, this is like the stuff Ellen Langer writes about”. And then I saw David had made that link too. The basic point is this: far from encouraging learning, certainty tends to undermine it.

This is really worth reflecting on. I remember years ago learning a little exercise in which we tried two things. First, we tried telling people something true but very mundane: what our name was, or that the sun rises in the east. Then we had a go at telling them something we believed fervently.

Then we compared how we’d held ourselves physically during the two statements, and of course we’d been much more intense for the latter one.

Also, if someone challenges a mundane truth, we’re quite likely to feel relaxed in refuting them, it needn’t escalate into a fight. But for something we’re fervent about, we are much more likely to feel it’s an attack on our status and escalate.

If we maintain a certain amount of doubt or vagueness, I think we offer more chance for relationship with the other. When we’re fervent, it’s more like we’re in a feedback loop with ourself and cut off from everyone else. It can be very intense and very isolating and it can feed delusion… and in the end, also, despair…

Bonus links to earlier posts:

Some stuff I wrote about Langer back in 2006 – the perils of rote learning and another one about hyper-vigilence

Here’s a post about that connects these ideas to how insight (and quotes Ben Franklin)can’t be taught from outside.

And Keith de la Rue has some good reflections on David Gurteen’s post.

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