Rules One, Two and Three

Recently I posted three “rules” on my social media sites that a LinkedIn member asked me to comment more on:

  • Rule #1: allow yourself to learn from smart people.
  • Rule #2: don’t allow yourself to be offended by stupid people.
  • Rule #3: sometimes the smart people are the ones who think very differently than you. They’re usually worth listening to.

These rules have several points of inspiration. One is an ancient proverb that says, “The one who loves a quarrel loves transgression; whoever builds his gate high invites destruction.”

This piece of ancient wisdom suggests a mindset that is useful in all situations when you are presented with points of view that are in opposition to your own. This is especially true amidst the recent onslaught of opinions being put forth on social media. It is actually the continual shouting of people taking sides against each other that was the stimulus for me to create these rules to better manage my own reactions.

The word transgression means an act that goes against a law, rule, or code of conduct; an offense. One way to think about this ancient axiom is that the person who loves to argue vehemently also loves to offend while demonstrating no concern for how they should conduct themselves. And what the second part of the proverb – whoever builds his gate high invites destruction – says to me is that the people who seek to defend what they believe they already know aren’t protecting themselves at all. In fact, they are inviting their own ruin!

Why? Most obviously, trying to influence someone’s point of view by offending them is hardly a winning strategy. Secondly, if I allow myself to believe my opinions are under attack, my natural inclination is to defend myself. Moreover, to the extent that these attacks are from people whose opinions won’t change – and yes, at those emotionally charged moments I’m thinking they’re being “stupid” – I’m defending myself in a battle of opinion that I cannot win. In this case, it’s better to follow Sun Tzu’s (The Art of War) advice, “If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it.” Finally, metaphorically defending myself with the proverb’s “high gate” prevents me from learning anything new. In today’s rapidly changing Information Age, those who refuse to learn get left behind.

A better approach, hence why it’s Rule #1, is to engage with people from whom you can sharpen your thinking by increasing your perspective. The old proverb relates to a more recent one – Steven Covey’s Habit 5 of successful people, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

That can often come from intentionally seeking out the views of those that think differently than you. This is rule #3, which was inspired by an interview with billionaire entrepreneur Sean Parker, the co-creator of the pioneering music-sharing service Napster and ex-president of Facebook (and if these accomplishments aren’t enough, he was played by Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network­). When asked, “Who do you bounce ideas off of?” Parker responded, “People I’ve argued with. I think most of the things I’ve done so far were largely considered really unpopular or really fringe when I started doing them.” In other words, one of the most renowned innovators of our time isn’t successful by building “high gates” to protect his point of view. Rather, he influences others by lowering his gate to allow in others that can influence him.

Having others agree with my views on flags, people’s rights, names of sports teams, a new product strategy, or who to hire for a key position is not something I get to choose. But I cannot allow that lack of choice I have in what someone believes to become a distraction to me. What I can choose is to learn and grow in my own understanding by productively seeking intelligent points of view that enhance my perspective.

As Carl Rogers said, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” And according to Einstein, to do that, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

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