Where you’re coming from

I admit, the title is a cheesy take on the oft repeated phrase “I get where you are coming from” ! However, its not really easy to develop an understanding, let alone an appreciation of somebody else’s perspective. The motivations behind such a lethargy of the intellect may be multiple things; a feeling of superiority and/or a consideration that another contradictory point of view is inferior, too much emotional investment into one’s own thought or one of the multiple cognitive biases that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky researched on (this research won them a Nobel Prize in Economics) and Daniel Kahneman articulated for us masses in his bestseller book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Over the past decade, I have increasingly had the opportunity to understand and engage with multiple perspective and I believe this experience deserves a blog post by itself.

First, some background. I grew up in a large joint family where opinions about every single topic, (large or small, controversial or not, relevant or not) were a dime a dozen. Some examples; BJP Vs. Congress Vs. Janata Dal, Mohammed Rafi Vs. Kishore Kumar, Dwaita as the ultimate spiritual philosophy and so on. However, I admit that passion played as much (if not the biggest ) part of all such arguments. Hence, I have already been comfortable with people “coming from” radical points of view and totally understand it when Gadkariji says that we should have “mata bhed” and not “mana bhed”.

My undergrad experience was in a classroom full of boys (mechanical engineering, you see !) and my first job with Toyota gave me an opportunity to immerse myself into a culture (Japan)which I initially came to believe was from a different planet altogether. My year in the USA when I was studying for a Master’s Degree in a really large public school in a spectacular college town (Ann Arbor) also gave a similar platform, but I squandered it in an effort to cram as much of my courses as possible in a single year and hence not have a social life at all. IIMA offered some variety of perspectives (there were all types of engineers and even some non-engineers, you see 😛 ) but I’ve realized that Takshashila is the place where it all climaxes, at least until now.

In the public policy program which i’ve enrolled for, I’m already seeing diverse points of view on every topic, many of which are really thought provoking. At this stage, here is why I believe it is always important to be talking with and listening to someone who isnt coming from the same place as one’s own self is:

  1. It reduces the effect of the cognitive biases that Kahneman and Tversky researched upon. Some biases that i particularly feel will be mitigated are confirmation, availability, attention, anchoring, misinformation and the Dunning-Kruger effect. for more information on cognitive biases, click here.
  2. It reduces the effort taken to learn something new. Honestly, even one great teacher cannot match the wisdom of a room (whether physical or online !) full of informed and engaged classmates.
  3. It increases the chances of an individual being beneficient as he/she is more likely to develop a strong sense of empathy. Very interestingly, I believe that reading a lot of fiction also tends to have the same effect.
  4. It helps to see life itself in a new perspective. To help observe this impact first-hand, I always recommend that people interact a lot with people either much elder or much younger to them.
  5. It actively helps to avoid boredom. The human brain is wired to always keep learning new things and doing too much of the same thing stresses people out more than anything else. An active brain is a happy brain and challenging one’s thought is a great way of doing just that.

Hence, I would actively recommend everyone to try something new, unfamiliar and not really inside a comfort zone. This could be about joining a course, traveling to a new place and learning its language, engaging with a different age group or just striking up a conversation. Trust me, the experience will only make life richer.

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