As my skill at solving the New York Times crossword puzzle every week might demonstrate, I know a little about a lot of things. However, after reading Adam Grant’s recent challenging book Think Again (Viking Press 2021), I confess that there are many more things about which I know at lot less than I think I do. It turns out knowing a little about many things does not equal knowing any of them in depth. Subtitled “the power of knowing what you don’t know,” Grant effectively convinced me that while I hold countless opinions (as do most Americans) I have very limited bases for many of them. My views seem to have been hobbled together from brief newspaper articles, conversations with friends, an occasional documentary film and my personal experience. Grant would maintain it would be not just humbling but in fact empowering to admit my ignorance.
A few months ago an experience with my granddaughter illustrates his point. Her extended paternal family is largely Republican and she wanted to know why I was a Democrat. A perfectly sound question from a 13 year old to her elder. My first response was the honest admission, “I guess I have always been a Democrat. My parents were Democrats. My grandparents voted for F.D.R.” Listening to myself, I realized that my response was embarrassingly close to the truth. She, of course, has only learned of the very left wing Democrats who are currently espousing socialism as the cure to society’s ills. I am not a proponent of socialism, so she needed more explanation.(My views on socialism, by the way, are no more rounded out than many of my opinions!) I told her that the Republican Party as it presently stands seems to me to promote the wealthy and the Democratic Party looks out for every one else.
But she made me realize that I have not had an in-depth conversation about politics rooted in deep thought in many years. Grant would maintain that the situation is the same for many areas in which we hold strong opinions. He says we lose out by keeping to our own views and never encountering any others. One of his points which I intend to remember in the future is “approach disagreements as dances, not battles.” It’s certainly worth a try.