The Best Way to Open the Mind

There was a great quote in the Times last week. Nicholas Kristoff, writing on the different neurology of liberals and conservatives, had mentioned that we often use the Internet to simply reinforce ideas we already have. To balance this narrowing tendency, he said we should seek out people with opposing viewpoints for regular debates. Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, wrote in to say Kristoff got the problem right, but the prescription wrong. “Simply exposing people to counterarguments may not accomplish much… and may inflame antagonisms.”

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Beautifully put. Understanding is much more easily achieved by traveling, by spending time in another community, by getting to know and care about another person. Our monkey minds, our left brains, are doing their jobs well when they debate and dance around issues — if we want to get to the heart of things, let’s use the right tool!