EcoIQ

The Benefits Are Many
Self-Understanding

By Dennis Church

This overview introduces a series of articles to be published here in the months ahead that will focus on how better self-understanding can contribute to our success in the 2020s.

The focus will be on understanding yourself as a unique individual, on understanding how individuals in general work, and on understanding how groups work. Articles will explore the nature and benefits of self-understanding in several dimensions.

1. Governing Yourself: Discovering Agency

We imagine ourselves directing our lives, but often realize as time goes on that, as John Lennon observed, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." If we can learn to better align the competing impulses within ourselves to focus on common goals, we are likely to become more effective at everything we do, very much including in the social/political sphere.

2. Understanding Opinions: Humility Is Powerful

The better we understand how and why we form opinions, the less zealous we are likely to be about those opinions. As Mark Twain wickedly noted, "Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made." To this it can now be appended, "Those who respect without pause their own opinions should not look too closely at how those opinions are formed." Humility about our knowledge and modesty in our opinions can make all the difference when talking with those holding sharply differing views.

3. Improving Your Communication Skills

There are many barriers to communication, and lots of ways we can go awry in our attempts. Sometimes mistakes come from within us, from our attitudes. We can learn to listen so that others will talk and learn to talk so that others will listen. Understanding the barriers in the person you are communicating with greatly increases your ability to frame and verbalize things in a way they can hear. Your ability to anticipate questions and objections allows you to address them proactively, and this prevents conversations from veering off into side issues and becoming garbled and then adversarial.

4. Improving Your Organizing Skills

There are many reasons people choose to become involved in social change activities, from political campaigns to nonprofit programs. A good place to start is to understand one’s own motivations. From there, avoid assuming everyone is like you, and learn to recognize the full spectrum of motivations that drive engagement. If you want to work in or even lead a group focused on change, you will be more effective to the extent you can learn how to work with the various personalities and needs you will encounter.

5. Resolving Conflicting Views of Human Nature

At the root of most political ideologies, including the standard left-right variations common in the United States and Europe, lie alternative views of human nature. What drives our individual and group behavior? How can we work together successfully, and why do we sometimes go off the rails? The left and the right typically answer such questions differently. The better we understand the cultural, historical, and philosophical roots of political ideology, the more able we will be to apply the lessons of today’s cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and evolutionary psychology. Science supports a view that finds some truth on both sides, and this can open untold pathways to find common ground.

More to come…

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