Political thinking: What if they are right?

I must admit, I think I may be maturing or mellowing in my age.

The past year/18 months has been a period of intense study in an attempt to answer the question “How do people REALLY make decisions, especially political decisions?”

This has lead to a more intense reading period than I can remember even while in college.  It has lead to books and scientific papers on behavior decision making theory, statistics, Bayes statistics, cognitive thinking, irrationality, biases, political branding, story telling, critical thinking tools, Neuromarketing and philosophy.

It has been a true meta-experience, and “Thinking about thinking” has lead to an incredible personal and professional journey.  thinking about thinking

Distilled, here is what I am learning:

Our brains are complex, incredible and a big fat gigantic liar sitting atop our shoulders.

Essentially a synthesis  of all the literature I have read is that we bump along life taking shortcuts that allow us to make sense of our world and unless we expend tremendous effort and are aware of our mental short cuts, we don’t do much heavy thinking.  Even when we think that we are making a major decision, we are often making most decisions at a sub-conscience, affective, irrational level and then “confabulate” (my absolute new favorite word) a story in order to rationalize our decisions.

In fact, we have to force ourselves to do heavy thinking and even THEN, our brains still try and cheat and take short cuts.

For a very long time, I have been blissfully operating under my very own set of biases: personal and professional.  Combine these biases and shortcuts with a healthy dose of ‘expertise’ and you had a person that did not deal well with ‘amateurs’ in the political field.

I was easily frustrated, dismissive, and impatient with others when it came to political and campaigning suggestions.

Then I spent a 18 months being humbled by science when you suddenly realize that the splinter in some amateur’s eye is completely blinding you to the log in your own eye.

The Change

I am attempting to personally commit myself to improving my decision making process and improving the way that I handle dissenting views proffered by others.

When you start treating your brain as benevolent well meaning liar, you approach things differently.

In all of the past 20 years, one question is helping me more than anything.  The question?  moh-thinking-about-politics

“What if THEY are RIGHT?”

This simple question forces me to break my thinking patterns, at least some of them.

By not dismissing someone who does not agree with you out of hand, you are entering into a new way of thinking about an issue.

Quick take inventory of your own biases, think about your decision process:

  • Did you satisfy?
  • Did you seek only confirmation?  Did you only goto your favorite website and find the first article that agreed with you and send it out as definitive proof?
  • Did you even consider a differing opinion?
  • Did you consider that you could be wrong?
  • What is the probability that you are wrong?
  • What are your critical underlying assumptions?

The key is to slow the decision making process down.

Before rejecting the person’s thought, idea, or comment immediately out of hand, I quickly ask, “What if THEY are right?”

How did they come to their conclusion(s), what was their process, what is their information, what is their reasoning?  All questions that pop into your head when you ask “What if they are right?”

Even with this effort, I still forget to ask it sometimes hence the hanging of the post its around my workspace.

I am attempting to use this with my clients, family, my friends, and my political opponents.

Honestly, it is a struggle, because it is hard and takes more mental energy than one realizes.

But, I am starting to see the rewards.  It is making me more patient (a little) and I think it is helping me make better decisions.

I find myself less interested in being right and more interested in making the best decision possible, and I think this alone will serve my clients, my family and my friends better.

I still may not agree with the person, in fact considering your side of the issue may make me further entrenched in my position but that is a complete other blog post.

For now, let’s just say I am making the effort.

Final thought on Thinking about Thinking

Please, don’t take my word about any of this; after all, my brain could be lying to me.  He’s kinda of a rascal like that.

About Alex Patton

4 Responses to “Political thinking: What if they are right?”

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  1. Richard Bluelaw says:

    I love reading your stuff, and it is obvious that you are one of the most thought conscience political operators.

    I hope that more of your kind takes time to “think about thinking” because we all would be better off.

    Great piece and please write more.

  2. Great posting. I see why the team at C&E pointed the community in your direction.

    A secondary benefit may be realized in a more effective dialogue. Even if failing to persuade one’s credibility is enhanced and lays the groundwork of trust.

  3. Jamie Siegmeister says:

    Thanks for sharing your extensive research in such an approachable way. It is inspiring that you have the courage to share the vulnerability that we humans don’t have all of the answers and we can be making faulty decisions when we don’t inquire into our own minds. This is super challenging and it often renders one insufferable to others when we take this journey. You succeeded it in being entertaining and relatable-I envy that. My husband, Jeff was a political newcomer and the two of you collaborate brilliantly. I actually miss the campaign trail because it was such a learning experience for me. Best wishes, Alex. You’re a genius.