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#82: Why You Should Have Difficult Conversations

#82: Why You Should Have Difficult Conversations

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1. Why you should have difficult conversations – One of my favorite pieces of research finds that people fear asking difficult/sensitive questions far more than being asked difficult/sensitive questions. 

That implies that in most social situations, people are afraid to talk about the juicy stuff because they falsely believe other people don’t want to talk about it! 

It’s yet another example of how nobody gives a shit nearly as much as we think they do. 

If everybody overestimates the risk of broaching personal or sensitive subjects, then people will generally avoid these conversations, which is suboptimal for becoming less awful humans. Therefore, developing the ability to broach difficult subjects is not only beneficial for your own personal growth but incredibly helpful to other people who don’t quite have it in them. 

I’ve sometimes called this the “go first” principle. By training yourself to “go first” in these social situations, you liberate others to have the conversations they’ve probably been desperately wanting to have themselves. You could even say that this is largely what leadership is, the willingness to risk your own neck in a way that benefits others.

2. Knowledge versus wisdom – Albert Camus once said, “An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.” I love this quote because it explains the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Knowledge is knowing lots and lots of stuff. Wisdom is understanding how your mind uses that stuff. 

In psychology, this “mind watches itself” is known as meta-cognition. Or, more casually, self-awareness

Self-awareness is being able to not just feel your emotions, but observe yourself feeling your emotions; to not just have thoughts but to observe your thoughts as though they weren’t yours; to not just have beliefs, but to question those beliefs. 

This self-observation—or the mind that watches itself—is at the root of mental and emotional health. It is a skill that we can practice and become better at. Therefore, knowledge is gained and wisdom is practiced. While knowledge is accumulated, wisdom is honed. While knowledge can be lost, wisdom lasts forever.

3. Is there such a thing as too much social awareness? – For decades, activists have had a stated goal of “raising awareness” on social issues. This made sense because back in the pre-social media dark ages, most people simply weren’t aware of a lot of the suffering and injustice that went on in the world.

But in the past ten years, awareness of social issues has not only exploded, it’s become ubiquitous. Sometimes, it seems as though it’s all anyone talks about. 

So, here’s a thought that has occurred to me. I don’t know if I necessarily believe it, but I’ve been trying it on to see how it feels:

Is it possible to have too much awareness of all the issues in the world? 

If I bite into a ham sandwich, does the fact that I’m aware of all of the suffering, injustice and environmental degradation that went into creating my ham sandwich actually do me or anyone else any good? 

Some awareness is obviously better than none. But perhaps there’s a point where more awareness becomes disadvantageous, it simply becomes moral masturbation. 

I can’t help but see “raised awareness” backfiring in all sorts of contexts: whether it’s harming people’s mental health and generating irrational feelings of guilt, or the moral self-righteousness that passes for “discourse” in the media today. Perhaps even the politicization of absolutely fucking everything to the point that it’s actually counterproductive. 

Just a thought I’ve had. I don’t know if I believe it or not. And even if it is true, I’m not sure what the solution would be. 

But I don’t have to know. Why? Because that’s wisdom, motherfucker. 

Until next week,
Mark