When people talk about being “unbiased,” or “impartial,” they often forget that this is an oxymoron, because ideas don’t exist independently of goals. Trying to be “unbiased” is a bias in and of itself!
Every idea has at least one goal attached to it. Understanding this helps us to stay curious and find the driving force behind thinking that we cannot relate to. Rather than seeing ideas as fixed, immovable dogmas, we can delve into them and find out the reasons they exist. Then we can make new ideas that better suit what we need now, as opposed to what we needed then. Because our needs change.
Often, in a conversation, you will come up against a rock-hard idea that somebody is carrying around that you cannot get past. Sex outside of marriage is bad. Women cannot be trusted. Men cannot be trusted with children. All white people are racists. All Muslims are potential terrorists. And so on. In these situations, the question is not simply “where did this idea come from?” but more importantly. “What is this idea good for?” What value does this idea have to the person clutching it so tenaciously?
The answer does not always come right away; often the person holding the idea has no concept of the idea serving a purpose, rather than simply being “the truth,” so they can’t always tell you what the idea “does for them.” but once you do understand the goal(s) associated with such an idea, you will be able to relate to it so much better even when you completely disagree with it. You will get the power to put the other person at ease, and even if they don’t open up from their dogma to accept your idea, they often will still be able to hear other ideas of yours, because your understanding has kept the lines of communication open.
Finding out the goal linked to an idea is a process: You can always ask other questions that draw the other person out. “Why?” is always good, even if you think you know the answer, because the other person gets to be listened to, which is nice. 🙂 If you’re open-minded enough, often you will learn a respect for a person’s ideas, even if you disagree with them, that may even affect your own ideas. For example, I have a friend who is extremely comfortable with violence–unfathomably so, I would have previously said (he once told me that “violence is normal”). But after listening to his story about why he got that way, I not only grew to respect his comfort and even appreciation of violence, but I also began having thoughts myself about wanting to learn more about violence, get more comfortable with it, and even apply it in a controlled fashion. And I now have indeed become more comfortable with it, and written about it here and here, for example.
You see, the idea of violence being a good thing sometimes led to a goal that I only found out about later on, as I listened to my friend and my mind wandered, and I thought to myself, “hmmmm, wouldn’t it be nice to not get scared shitless if some violent activity were about to happen? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to stay calm, not get nervous, etc.? And that was the goal attached to the idea of becoming more comfortable with violence.
I hope I have convinced you that an idea is way more than an idea (if you didn’t know that already). It’s the reason why programs like TED Talks are so valued. Your ideas are the key to who you are, not just now, but also in terms of finding the path you will walk in the future. You may not know where yo want to be 5, 10, 20 years from now… but with every new idea you have that sticks, there is a goal making it stick that has already sprouted and will help you find your way. Get in touch with that goal and go for it!