Heidi Meyer ’23 (DCI Fellow)
“Do you know how a zipper works?” “Yes,” I quickly answered confidently on the survey, reflecting that I’ve used zippers my whole life on clothing, my shoes, backpacks, and more. My confidence slowed when the next question came: “Please explain in the writing response below how a zipper works.” I paused. After a bit of thinking, I wrote “I realize now I do not know how a zipper works.”
This example was a successful lesson for me in intellectual humility. This Perspectives module, which was a part of my DCI training, had totally convinced me to completely change my viewpoint and I wasn’t angry or defensive, but rather astonished and impressed with how much my view had changed so quickly.
The first takeaway for me was that I don’t know as much as I think I know. While there are many topics that I could give a stance on or may have learned about in the past through a class or personal research, I often forget details or don’t look deeply into topics before taking a stance.
The beauty of intellectual humility is that it is positive. There is always more anyone can learn on any subject. Therefore everyone should be open to learning more information and with new information, changes in beliefs or stances may come. If society can learn to embrace intellectual humility and a growth mindset around learning, it would help combat polarization. People would be more willing to engage with someone who holds a different viewpoint, as every conversation would pose an opportunity to learn and grow. This doesn’t mean that everyone will change their core beliefs after one conversation, but it does mean that you can learn about someone, humanize them, and sympathize with why they might hold a different view than you do.
The second lesson for me was the power of questions. The efficacy of a question to diplomatically disarm someone is powerful and can not only help someone change their mind but can also help protect a relationship from being harmed by a disagreement. Most people become defensive when their views and especially core beliefs are challenged. But asking genuine questions to understand where someone is coming from, however, can help you learn about their reasoning and simultaneously encourage them to reflect on their reasoning. This self-reflection is often more effective in getting someone to realize their mistake than telling someone why they are wrong. In the zipper example, I was completely convinced to change my mind to a completely different perspective due to one question asking me to explain my stance.
While zippers are a niche topic, the lesson applies to other subjects such as politics, workplaces, and personal relationships. Asking people to explain their positions is an effective way to help them think through their position and defend it. The answers can help you understand where someone is coming from or help that individual consider other perspectives if they realize they aren’t as sure as they thought they were about why they held such a stance.
In today’s modern polarized society, questions are a simple but effective way to come together, whether through learning about the other side or encouraging people to be more curious and openminded. When asking questions, be mindful to also ask yourself why you hold the views you do and to remain intellectually humble even if you have answers to your own questions. There is always more you can learn that may change the way you think and feel.