Today is June 22 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you maintain strong opinions weakly held?” For those navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well, they understand their way is just one of the many paths available. Translating one’s dreams into reality leaves little time to mandate a strict path for others to follow. Instead, navigating the chaos of life requires one to understand before responding, judging, or criticizing. It would be difficult to practice the art of living well if you go around criticizing how people are living their lives. Possessing strong opinions weakly held is a common practice among many who practice the art of living well.
As with most of human endeavors, many people find it easier to engage in the path of least resistance. They judge the actions of others despite not being active themselves. They criticize the words of others while remaining silent themselves. They mock those trying to find a way while they stand still themselves. This failure to understand others is a typical characteristic of weak individuals unwilling to take the time to understand. Eighteenth century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote “Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?” How often do you stop to ask yourself why someone does what they do? Does your habit of instant judgment cloud any ability to comprehend why people do what they do? Do you allow yourself to change your opinion once you have considered new information?
Successful people who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well seek to understand the actions of others before commenting, reacting, or judging. Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires one to have a curious mind. The advent of social media, however, has made it far too easy for people to comment, react, or judge without spending a moment of time to reflect upon what it is they just saw, heard, or read. In short, we often lack curiosity for we are too busy commenting, reacting, or judging. There are countless examples of people commenting, reacting, or judging before understanding the actions of others.
One example came on April 1, 2014, when National Public Radio (NPR) pulled an epic April Fool’s joke on its followers. On its social media platforms, NPR produced a phony article with attached picture and published it on their website. The "article" was titled, "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore." When clicking on the link to the article readers were greeted by this message "Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools' Day! We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they have not actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let us see what people have to say about this story." Sure enough, many people jumped straight to the comment section and were firing off ignorant comments. Those who only read the title were quick to defend their reading habits. The irony was brilliant! This was an unfortunate, but all too common illustration of immediate judgement without understanding in the age of social media. Those who commented without clicking on the link, and therefore trying to understand, had strong opinions that were strongly held. Such an approach lacks the level of maturing required to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well.
According to Stanford professor Bob Sutton, the team at Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future describe intelligent people as having “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” As was explained to him, weak opinions are problematic because people don’t support them with strong arguments, or they don’t bother putting these opinions to the test. Opinions that are too strongly held, on the other hand, cause people to become blind to differing and contradictory arguments. When people cling onto their own ideas too tightly, they start skewing everything they see towards their own opinions, otherwise known as confirmation bias. Being smart is not about always being right. It’s about being willing to change your perspective and admit you were wrong. It’s about seeing the same situation from a different angle. That’s how you learn and grow. When you judge someone without first seeking to understand, you limit your intelligence, demonstrate ignorance, and prohibit your ability to practice the art of living well.
Author Madeleine L'Engle noted “Just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist.” As you go about your day how often do you remind yourself to understand the actions of others before you comment, react, or judge? If you catch yourself judging others without first seeking to understand, do you reflect and wonder why that is? How often do you maintain strong opinions weakly held?