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Seeing things as they really are

We all look at the world through glasses with different prescriptions. They enable us to see clearly in some areas and not so clearly in others. This is our worldview. It is shaped by the unique combination of experiences we’ve had thus far and therefore our worldviews are unique to us. Some worldviews are more closely aligned — these are the people we feel we have a lot in common with. Other can be further apart — these are the people we “can’t understand” or dismiss as ignorant or deluded. There is no ‘correct’ or ’perfect’ worldview.

Our worldview shapes how we interpret events, what we value as important and how we interact with others. It is constantly evolving over time, although the rate of change is determined by its rigidity. The rigidity or flexibility of worldview varies between individuals.

Rigidity can be a source of conflict; from arguments over the dinner table to starting wars. Yet excessive flexibility can also be damaging; it enables the implantation of the ideas of others and radicalisation is an example of how damaging this can be.

Having a rigid or flexible worldview reflects the reduced cognitive strain of doing so. Being rigid saves the mental energy required to understand where the other person comes from. Being flexible saves you from forming your own opinions. Both inhibit learning.

In order to learn and expand your worldview, you must form your own opinions but also be open to having your mind changed by others. If people discussing a topic are too fixed in their views, and their views are not in alignment, then very little will be gained from the ‘discussion’ — it quickly becomes personal and thus destructive. Often people claim to be open to other people’s views, perhaps even genuinely believe that they are, but don’t act in ways that support this.

Derek Sivers suggests that strong opinions are very useful to others because:

i. Those who were undecided or ambivalent can just adopt your stance.

ii. Those who disagree can solidify their stance by arguing against yours.

I agree that expressing strong opinions is useful for others but for personal gain, often more can be learnt from listening to the strong opinions of others.

Being genuinely open to new ideas can facilitate dramatic shifts in your worldview that can greatly enhance your quality of life. Phrases and sayings such as ‘paradigm shift’, ‘my eyes were opened to…’, ‘I saw clearly for the first time’, etc. are reflective of this.

How can you actively foster open-mindedness?

Detach yourself from the desire to be right. Often people see their opinions as intrinsically linked to their identity and thus accepting that their opinion may be wrong feels like accepting that they are flawed as a person, yet this need not be the case.

Have confidence in your own opinions. Don’t be afraid to consider another person’s point of view for fear that it will weaken or change yours. For example, trying to understand the rationale behind someone’s xenophobic views is not going to suddenly make you become xenophobic.

Actively look to be disproved. Josh Kaufman talks about the ‘Confirmation Bias’; the general tendency for people to pay attention to information that supports their conclusions and ignore information that doesn’t. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to figure out whether or not you’re right is to actively look for information that proves you’re wrong.

In the words of Stephen Covey:

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

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Data Scientist + Junior Doctor in London, Cambridge medicine grad, striving to improve healthcare through technology and education.

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