STORY: About critical thinking and questions

Belief can be manipulated

A grade school teacher once told my mom, "Kery just wants things to be fair."

In college, I gravitated toward classes like Intercultural Communication, Women's Studies and Rhetoric. I appreciate the differences in people. It just hurt my heart when I saw injustice in the world. And I had a desire to do something about it. What? I didn't know... but something. 

So, while I was in college I looked for ways to further the cause of fairness. In one such instance I volunteered for the Anti Defamation League (ADL).    

Here's what happened

A group of about 30 college students came together on a Saturday morning. If memory serves, I believe we met up in a large empty room on campus.

It felt empowering to see an eager group of college kids come together and be motivated to make a difference.   

Our ADL facilitator rallied us together. He addressed the group, "Ok team, let's split into two groups."

People started to shuffle to the right and left side of the room.

I recall feeling like the energy in the room matched my hopeful and optimistic outlook. There we were, united in taking a positive action toward eradicating hate in our community.  

We were the next generation

We were going to usher in change! 

We were going to make a difference!  

Or so we thought... 

Our group facilitator said, "Ok folks, we are going to play a game. Each team will get a secret message from me. Then, one person from each group will step up and debate the other side."

He went on... 

"You'll be timed, with the goal being to convince the other side of your position and win the debate. If no progress is made, the next person up from each group will step up to see if they can win the debate." Upon receiving confirmation from both sides that we all understood, we got started. 

First, he walked to the other team and quietly advised their group. Next, he walked over to my team and whispered: "The truth is, the sky is white. Science says so. It may look blue but it's actually white. Only the uninformed think it's blue." 

Then one-by-one, he asked a person from each team to step up to debate the other side about what color the sky really was. 

And one-by-one, each side started to make their argument. The volume in the room started to escalate. People were taking this seriously. Debate participants kept insisting that the "sky was blue" only to hear "no way, the science is clear... the sky is white!"

People were raising their voices...

and getting emotional about the topic. 

Each side telling the other how "uninformed" they were to think such ridiculous thoughts.  

This went on and on with debate after debate. Early into the exercise, I suspected something was fishy. So, I quietly walked away from my group and whispered to the facilitator, "This is a set up, right? You told each side something different as fact, didn't you?"    

"Shhh, just play it cool. Let them go on a bit more" he replied.  

After awhile he broke the news to the rest of the room. Indeed, he had told each side two different "truths." The point was as I suspected, to show us how if groups are told to believe something, they may cling to that belief especially when backed up by others around them. 

It only took one person of authority to whip this group of hopeful change makers into an emotional frenzy. Each side digging into a position they had zero evidence for, yet had great belief about.   

What might have happened if more people saw through the set up? What if more asked questions about the advice given? Would I have been joined on the sidelines with more quiet resistance for such a pointless argument?

I can't think of a better practice in life than asking questions. Yet, I'm continually surprised (and disappointed) by the lack of curiosity I experience from people I meet. 

As children, all we do is ask, ask, ask. Then as adults, we stop asking. Why? 

Is it the desire to know it all and be the expert?
Is it the (false) belief that asking with curiosity makes you weak?  
Do any of us actually have all the answers about anything

In business, we have to keep pivoting, evolving, growing, and tweaking our offers.

We have to keep asking our clients how we can continue to be relevant for them... to be worth it. To be, "of value."

So, why so few curious questions when we meet new people? Most people, it seems, just want to talk about themselves. 

What do you say you and I, we make an agreement? Let's make an effort to ask with curiosity more often. Not like we put someone in the hot seat, spotlight in their eye questioning them. But rather, we ask open-ended questions with no agenda. It's only when we are genuinely curious, without clouding our minds with engrained beliefs, that we can learn anything new at all.  


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