Very recently, I was walking in Downtown Detroit. If you’ve recently paid a visit to the D, you’ve likely at least seen or at most been pestered by a few persons with clipboards going on about how Jerry is having trouble learning Mandarin.
At least, that’s what it sounded like when I first encountered these people, given my (lack of) competence on the subject they wanted to raise my awareness of.
Turns out there’s a ballot proposal some overly bothered citizens are collecting signatures for in an effort to potentially end gerrymandering in Michigan with the aid of a presence on the November 2018 ballot. One member of the group stopped me and immediately began burying me in his elevator (street corner?) pitch.
I was suckered in.
This is not something I’m proud of, so I ask for you to give me whatever amount of a break you’re willing to offer.1 With that said, I knew as I signed my name that some lesson was to be learned from this. I think I’ve learned it.
A Question and Its Source
I’m a human, so interesting ideas surface when I’m in the shower and not trying to bring interesting ideas to the surface. My latest interesting idea was a question that I should’ve asked this guy while he was catching his breath from explaining his side of the proverbial story:
What argument(s) would people that disagree with you make to try convincing you otherwise?
As soon as this question came to mind, I knew the source.
I’ve definitely learned to ask these sort of questions as a result of following the work of Tim Ferriss, the man behind The Tim Ferriss Show (an extremely popular podcast, featuring riveting interviews with world-class individuals) and the author of such monster books as Tools of Titans and the recently released Tribe of Mentors. Both of these books change my brain with every passing line, with essentially all of those lines being either intentionally worded questions he asks his guests or their thought-provoking responses to them.
(I’d list a few example Ferriss-style questions, but it’s taken him a lifetime to develop them2 and I believe you should do the work of finding them yourself if you care enough.)
The craziest part was that I actually heard Ferriss’ voice asking the question in my head as it hit me. Surely this is why I so easily attributed it to him.
Anyways, just as quickly as I thought of the question, I was filled with regret for not handling the situation differently. My life experiences and background and such made me feel that this guy was surely collecting signatures for an absurdly large pile of crap that will never come to fruition, but that’s really not the root of my regret anymore. I simply wish I challenged the guy a little more. Perhaps I would’ve been able to close the conversation with, “Thanks for bringing this to my attention but I’m not sure I agree.”
Instead, he took an easy tally from a teenage kid, despite the kid being what George Carlin would consider a poor American.
I’ve got this real moron thing I do — it’s called thinking. And I’m not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.
— George Carlin
I failed to form my own opinion and it was foolish. Simply foolish. However, the feeling I had when signing my name is one that I’ve experienced enough that I was able to recognize it in real time.
Hasty When New
I notice this behavior in myself in any situation that’s fresh to me.
First time filling my car up with gas? I was hasty, rushing and not paying much attention.
Any time a family member asks even a solid question about my personal life? I fail to respond in any sort of heartfelt, honest manner, even if the situation kinda sorta calls for it.
Any time I dropped a stack or folder of anything at school? I rushed to pick it up and everything ended up more out of order and creased than it had to be.
This probably isn’t unique to me. In new or otherwise uncomfortable situations, people tend to rush in and rush out, later regretting it. But I think this is a necessary stage to surpass.
People who ruthlessly form their own opinions before advancing in every situation that even minutely mirrors the one I tell of here are both mature and intelligent to the highest possible levels, in my opinion.
I surpassed the respective petition-signing stage and next time won’t be in such a useless hurry when I find myself in a situation like the one described above. I’ll pause, think and drop a question worthy of being in a Ferriss book.
I still can’t wrap my head around the gerrymandering concept, though my quick research makes the dude’s aforementioned pitch seem just as reasonable as it did when I cared not for a counterargument from him.
I don’t doubt that through some source I’ll eventually learn that ending gerrymandering would be a massive mistake, simply because this is how my learning tends to go, which has taught me to never be so certain about anything — hence, “holding strong opinions loosely.”
The bottom line is that I’m seeing improved modes of thinking in myself thanks to my choices in literature and I’ve checked off a key instance of not being present enough in the moment to think for myself or even truly be myself.
The upside: Second cracks at situations like this are always much better than the rookie go-around. I won’t be so dumb next time.
- I mainly write this because I grew up learning that accepting even useful pamphlets or related things from strangers is to be avoided at all costs — no exceptions. That it’s completely okay to be as rude as you deem necessary to people offering you stuff. Surely they’re scamming you somehow, right? It’s such a limiting worldview. ↩
- Legend has it that it took Picasso one second to draw a magnificent portrait of a woman who insisted he sketch her. She was taken aback by the $5,000 charge he asked for after, given the time it took to complete. Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.” ↩