One thing people learned over the weekend is that we can all agree Pete Davidson’s, in his own words, a dick. Why is Pete Davidson a dick? Why can both the left and the right agree on it? He made a bad joke about a veteran who was running for Congress and had lost an eye in combat. Dan Crenshaw, the vet and now elected congressman, appeared on Saturday Night Live to sincerely accept Davidson’s apology, set a lighthearted tone by giving Davidson some insults of his own, and speak to shared values we have as Americans. One of those values is the ability to forgive. It was a moment of strong leadership which can provide some healing, and there are further lessons to be learned from it.
This brought to mind a blog entry I’d written nearly five years ago about how polarized we were becoming on the surface. This isn’t actually the first time I’ve referenced it, either. The last time, I wondered what color the sky was on your personal planet because it felt like we were living on two different worlds. The thing is, we’d like to believe that we have shared values we agree on as a society. More and more, that seems to be in question based on how we act and treat each other. If we don’t act any better, we go down the path of lumping people into the “other” category. And if someone is in the “other” category, it becomes much easier to that them as lesser and not worthy of consideration – or worse.
One of the books I’ve been reading lately is Priniples by Ray Dalio. The core principle in his book is of radical transparency and open-mindedness. That it’s impossible to make the best decision without considering other viewpoints, experiences, and knowledge. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up your position, it means that if you come up with it on your own then it’s going to be suboptimal and have natural blindspots. I’m wearing out my highlighter in it (you can find more quotes like the one below on my Instagram page). He’s right, we’re all bound by our own thinking and opinions. The smartest person in the world is only as good as what they themselves know. That doesn’t make them the wisest person in the world, however.
The thing is, we all have a choice in the matter. The open-mindedness Ray Dalio talks of is a learned skill which takes practice and ongoing struggle. Asking questions and gathering information is a step which has to happen before we can give an answer or pass judgement. And that’s a hurdle which is often a high one. Without it, any “discussion” is just an argument which will never get to resolution. There’s an intermediate step of filtering the information through our own principles. Getting at those principles is another monumental task which we all underestimate. Those are defensible and have life experiences behind them. With set values you’ve learned, there’s no whataboutism. When someone counters your questions with a whatabout, they’re doing what Dalio writes about above.
That’s often because we either haven’t thought through our values or we’re not speaking with them. That’s when we slip into tribalism. We don’t even consider the other person’s point of view and we lack the self-awareness of what’s going on. We blame the media, we blame the other guy, we blame public figures, we blame social media. We blame everyone for stealing that away from us. In reality, each time we enter a discussion without the desire to hear another side, we’re just out to argue. There can’t be any connection. If the people you’re talking with treat you as lesser without asking you questions, they’re not respecting you. But it’s on you to give them the same respect.
Don’t think that the ability to converse and understand has been stolen from you, that’s a gift you can give the right way. Because we can all agree Pete Davidson’s a dick, but he’s a dick who can realize it, learn from it, and do better the next go around. And we know that he’s better for it because of what Dan Crenshaw chose to do.