How often do you express contempt prior to investigation?

Today is October 14 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you express contempt prior to investigation?” People who navigate the chaos often understand the danger associated with drawing conclusions about some issue, person, or situation without first conducting the required assessment. The process of understanding involves three basic tenets: setting aside the proper amount of time, asking the numerous questions involved with an evaluation, and recognizing the nuances involved with any situation.

Each of the three tenets are difficult to do as one navigates the chaos. The issue, person, or situation, if it is important to you, deserves your attention to the process. If you choose to ignore the process of understanding, then you risk expressing contempt prior to investigation. This notion has been a point of observation for hundreds of years.

In the 17th century, English philosopher John Locke wrote “To prejudge other men's notions before we have looked into them is not to show their darkness but to put out our own eyes.” Are you willing to risk “putting out your own eyes” by prejudging someone before you set aside time to understand their situation?

In his 18th century work Evidences of Christianity, William Paley took a different approach to the same theme when he wrote “Contempt prior to examination is an intellectual vice, from which the greatest faculties of mind are not free.” Are you willing to admit your ‘intellectual vice and realize you are not free’ by expressing contempt prior to investigation?

In 1938, the newly established Alcohol Anonymous organization published The Big Book that included the statement: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” How ignorant do you want to be as you navigate the chaos?

As with most Navigate the Chaos posts, today’s reflection involves significant nuance. As Dr. Mark Alicke wrote in a September 10, 2017 Psychology Today article the nuances here involve subtle “differences between willful ignorance and true self-deception.”

When one engages in contempt prior to investigation out of willful ignorance, such a notion tends to be more adaptive than self-deception. For example, think of a romantic relationship where one partner allows the other one to believe something innocuous, like person X is the artist with the most downloaded songs. Even though an investigation into artists with downloaded songs would prove otherwise, the partner willing to go along with this contempt prior to investigation allows the couple the adapt and move forward.

As Alicke wrote “willful ignorance is a cognitive strategy that people adopt to promote their emotional well-being.” Leveraging as much emotional well-being is critical as you seek to navigate the chaos.

The other nuance of contempt prior to investigation, however, involves self-deception that is less controllable and more likely to be detrimental. For example, the person who has a history of cancer in their family avoids getting early detection tests because they believe that since they are in perfect healthy it would be inconceivable for them to receive a cancer diagnosis.

As Alicke noted “although willful ignorance and self-deception sometimes help individuals to avoid unpleasant facts, in the long run, it is usually better to confront reality than to avoid or deny it.” By following the process of understanding, and not expressing contempt prior to investigation, one expands the number of resources for correcting their course of action when future erroneous beliefs enter their mindset.

As you go about your daily grind trying to translate your dreams into reality, reflect upon how often you express contempt prior to investigation. Can you catch yourself judging others without any assessment of the situation? Do you have the self-awareness to understand when you are demonstrating willful ignorance versus when you are engaged in self-deception?

Navigating the chaos is hard work. Most people will find it easier to express contempt prior to investigation for the simple fact that it is the path of least resistance. Are you willing to put in the hard work necessary to understand someone, an issue, or a situation? If not, why do you think that is?