fixed worldviews

Fixed worldviews

When we listen to someone, a basic process that happens in our brains (in very simplified terms) is that we compare what we hear with what we know and then – if necessary – adapt.

Yet, there are two extremes in how people do this:

On the one extreme are people who fit what they hear to what they know. These people will default to adapt new information to confirm what they already believe. If people like this believe that their business partner is cheating on them, everything they learn about that new deal will reinforce this perspective.

On the other extreme are people who fit what they know to any new information. These people will frequently adapt what they believe to new information. If an “expert” offers them her opinion, they will frequently adapt this as a fact.

Both, of course, have an utter deficit in critical thinking. The former judge any information by their existing worldview – it’s what ideologies are made of. The latter shy away from trusting their own assessment and avoid any judgement of their own.

What’s surprising at first sight (at least to some) is that the former group is just as easy to manipulate as the latter. Demagogues excel at this. They manipulate their followers by attaching to people’s beliefs. Knowing that these people will approve of anything that reinforces their worldviews, demagogues craft their story in a way that does exactly that.

The way to react to this is not by trying to convince these people that their worldview is wrong. They will dismiss any attempt at this simply because their worldviews are closed. Any new information will be judged against these worldviews. The way to react – probably the only one – is to acknowledge their worldview, understand it on a deeper level, and then – if possible – attach to it in a way they can approve. You need to speak their language, give them a feeling of being heard and seen and of being in control.

As someone being capable of critical thinking, ask yourself: What’s right from their perspective? Why do they believe what they believe? What might have led them to believe it? What do they really care about on a deeper level? What are they afraid of? How can I acknowledge their fears? What would need to be true for them to accept a fact or a point of view while staying true to what matters to them?

It’s easy to dismiss different perspectives. It’s easy to laugh at people who just seem to not get it. It’s easy to rant about this or that worldview. But it doesn’t help very much. It’s much more helpful to acknowledge different perspectives, try to understand them, and act accordingly – not by manipulating but by offering a balanced, ethical perspective to attach to.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz


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