You’re Just Too Stupid To Know …

Well, that Heineken commercial – the Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld video – is certainly garnering attention – positive, excited, provocative, and outrage. I have to admit, the outrage part caught me by surprise. And seeing a headline that says it is worse than the Pepsi commercial, but “you’re just too stupid to know” does not feel like an invitation that welcomes me into an exploration of why that might be.

Heineken commercial photo

I saw the Heineken video about a week ago (have not seen the Pepsi one) and it resonated for me in relation to the work we are doing with Worldview Intelligence. The biggest challenge people seem to have is about how to have conversations with people who have very different worldviews, perspectives, or opinions than they have. The kinds of conversations that usually shut down before they even begin. The kinds of situations that have torn families and friendships apart.

I see now that there are people pointing out that some of the people in the video are more at risk than others – a point which seems valid to me. Some of the scenarios were much milder and some much riskier – climate change believer and denier paired up versus a transgender woman and a man disgusted by the very idea. Some think it perpetuates the very situations and scenarios it is highlighting.

What I wondered after seeing the video was: how? How did they do it? What was the invitation that was made to the people who participated? How was the scenario of the exchange set up? How did they create “safe enough” conditions for participation? They clearly went to a fair bit of work in the preparation since they had videos of each person created prior to their meeting.

If I already don’t like the video, I’m more likely to click on the stories that tell me it is dangerous, idiotic or harmful. It will confirm my perspective – confirmation bias. If I like the video, telling me “I’m too stupid to know …” makes me feel judged and does not make me interested in reading the post – which maybe I should be reading in order to expand my worldview.

For me, watching the video made me more curious about how to create environments where people who see and experience the world very differently can meet each other in exploratory spaces – something greatly needed and desired right now by many we encounter in our work. How to do it well in increasingly challenging situations – well, that is the question and the exploration at the center of much of the work of Worldview Intelligence.

A Mess of Contradictions. How Do We Find Ways Forward?

Do you believe you are not biased? Or, not very, anyway? Would it surprise you to know that each of us is born with a built in bias called “naïve realism”, where we believe we are not biased?

Naïve realism makes us believe our own views are reasonable, even if they are not. It makes it easy to default to judgment of other people and their views — because they are “just wrong”. It is as if accepting another person’s experience or view somehow invalidates our own or makes us wrong, and we have a hard time with that. But we live in a world where multiple truths, multiple experiences, multiple views and opinions exist. Not just some of the time. All of the time. It is all real. It is all true, to one degree or another. Generally, those degrees closer to our experiences are easier to accept, those most different are harder to accept.

The idea that views can be so easily categorized as right and wrong is antithetical to finding our way out of the increasingly fragmented, polarized and often inflamed exchanges we increasingly find ourselves in or witnessing. We see people, sometimes even ourselves, resort to the most primal of instincts of defending our own views and dismissing another’s views. We have seen these exchanges descend rapidly into de-humanizing another person or group simply because of disagreeing with their views or trying to protect our own or our own sense of identity, our territory or turf. And, of course, there is also nothing simple in this.

How is it that we come to defend our own views passionately even when so much contradictory information exists? How did we come to such a toxic state of public discourse? It is complex, there are several dynamics at play including fear and behavioural sciences offer us an opportunity to find our way to understanding – even when it presents us with “cognitive dissonance”.

Cognitive dissonance is that feeling of discomfort that occurs when we try to hold two contradictory thoughts, opinions or views at the same time. One view resonates with our beliefs and the other disagrees with it. When we are presented with evidence that works against our beliefs, to maintain a feeling of comfort, we reject the new evidence. What if we were able to hold that space and live into that discomfort for even a few minutes? And then a few minutes longer? Without feeling like you have to give up your own view or invalidate your own experience, could you possibly come to enough curiosity to try to understand why another person feels the way they do, why they hold the view they do, what it is in their experience that has shaped their worldview?

Our view of the world – our worldview – is shaped locally and socially – by where we are at any given time and by the people we come into contact with, from when we are born to now. Our views shift and change over time, often without our awareness of it happening. Our views of the world are supported and reinforced by the people we surround ourselves with. If we are part of a dominant culture it can be less easy, and sometimes almost impossible, to see and acknowledge the perspectives and experiences of other people.

At any given time in society, there are voices that go unheard and oppressed. While this may not surprise us, what does surprise us at times is who or what groups feel unheard and oppressed. We might expect to hear it from Native American or First Nations or African American or African Canadian populations but are surprised, for instance, to hear it from white people in the rust belt of the United States. The inability to hear it keeps it under the surface, bubbling along until something occurs to inflame it.

The current US president has tapped into themes that many people believe deeply in – so deeply that it is part of their sense of identity. When our identity is threatened, we respond as if our very life is threatened. That is one reason why there is so much defensiveness and combativeness in exchanges. And why we pick through information to hold onto that which supports our sense of identify despite so much contradictory information existing.

Underlying all of this is a sense of betrayal – many people who voted for the current president have felt betrayed for a long time by systems that have not worked for them. They were likely joined by those more recently feeling disaffected or like their voice is not being heard. Those who are now at the behest of a current administration they did not vote for feel betrayed by those who did. We dance around this betrayal because we do not know how to confront it in ways that lead to dialog and understanding, and because betrayal is a word laden with dark emotional significance. Most people can barely take themselves to the place of even being able to say the word and acknowledge their experience, let alone recover from it.

Our greatest opportunity to influence someone – or even ourselves – is before we make a decision. Once we make a decision, we go out of our way to confirm and reconfirm it, becoming more attached to it in the process. We are motivated to defend and reinforce our decision – “motivated reasoning” – because it is now part of how we see and understand ourselves. Changing our mind is tantamount to an identity crisis, so we keep looking for information that supports our point of view – “confirmation bias”. The more we do this, the more we change the circuitry of our brains, deepening particular neural pathways, making it easier and faster for cues to travel these pathways. The more attached we become to our decision, our view, the more likely we are to ignore contradictory information – obviously it can’t be true and also to fall into disbelief about how the other person or group could possibly think and act the way they do. Just notice what links you click on and what ones you don’t. Notice your reaction to contradictory information or views.

Our total disbelief that others could have a contradictory view, which we often believe is not based in fact or reality because it is not based in our facts or reality, further hinders our potential to be in productive conversation. Instead of trying to understand this different perspective or how someone came to hold it we are more likely to want to ridicule them and be angry at them. This is not compassionate or empathetic to those who hold a different perspective and being compassionate or empathetic does not mean we need to agree with them or change our own view.

It is complex and it requires us to find points of connection, to meet each other in our humanity — which is easy to say and less easy to create the circumstances and environment where we can find these points of connection especially when in the presence of very disparate points of view. If National discourses do not take us in this direction, then we, each and every one of us who remembers our basic humanity, need to sit with what we do not know, sit with the uncomfortableness that arises from our own dissonance to find ways forward. Maybe we need to go out and find the very thing or person we think we fear to find a way to build strength and opportunity from and through our differences. How else do we do this thing?

befriend the other

Note: In a recent Worldview Intelligence program as we explored this very topic, it was pointed out that there is a time and place for different responses and responding to an injustice occurring right in front of you might be a time for action now and conversation later. The need to create exploratory spaces does not mean there is also not a need for other courses of action. It is not one or the other but many possibilities at any given time.


Perfectly Broken and Ready to Heal – Robin Youngson

“Every time I demonized those I wanted to influence, I met resistance.” This is the first point Robin Youngson shares in his TEDxTauranga talk: Perfectly Broken and Ready to Heal. “More people started to listen when I dropped judgment.”

Youngson is a physician and senior medical leader, whose journey to transform the patient experience of health care was sparked by a horrific accident his daughter was in that caused her to be in the hospital, immobilized, looking only at the ceiling, for three months. So little stimulation. So little compassion. So little humanizing of a patient.


Meredith and Robin Youngson

It began a quest for him. A radical commitment. To humanize caring in the hospital system. He and his wife, Meredith created a company called Hearts in Health Care and they struggled to create change. His worldview of his work, of patient care or human care, has shifted and expanded in his journey. His work and quest is resonant with the foundational philosophies of our work with Worldview Intelligence.

He and Meredith learned that logic and evidence does not help. The facts will not likely change someone’s mind because people are vested in their own worldviews. Non persuasion was more effective. “I discovered my greatest power was vulnerability,” he says. “It was through vulnerability that we began to open hearts and minds.”

They also discovered that casting themselves as experts on compassion did not work. They were confronted by a group of nurses who said, “I imagine you are here to teach us about what we have only been doing for about 3o years.” That reminded them, “Every doctor and nurse already has a depth of compassion. Our job was to draw it out; to draw out the wisdom and compassion that already existed in the room.”

They moved from a business model to a generosity model, bringing greater alignment between their views and how they are showing up in the world, and have been humbled by the generosity of the world. As an example, his book Time to Care is being translated into many different languages by volunteers.


Hearts in Health Care Lessons Along the Way – Powerful and resonant with much of the Worldview Intelligence work, philosophies and foundational premises

Finally he says, “We discovered that approaching the issues like a pathology only focused people on the problems where they blamed each other. So now we ask better questions, to help people share the very best stories of healing and connection.”

“All the strategies that didn’t work involve separation. All the ones that did work involve connection. The new world we were trying to build was already in the room.”

Youngson offers, “When we fight against what’s wrong we draw up the battle lines.Our protests, fights and campaigns are counterproductive because they serve only to separate us even more.”

Drawing the analogy between patient care and connection to health care, he says, “If I make a compassionate human connection to my patients it boosts their immune system, reduces their stress and pain. It is as powerful as medical treatment. As a doctor I am sometimes confronted by patients who are broken and have no hope. Compassion calls me to sit with them in their darkest hour. When I dare to hold the sacred space I see them crack open and begin to heal.”

“If we can take this gift of brokenness into our hearts we hear the call of compassion and suffer outselves to become more vulnerable, humble and generous. Everything we need is right here, within us.”

He ends with,  “Will you receive this gift? It is perfectly broken.” Well, will you?



Amygdala Hijacks and Triggers

Not too long ago I was in a planning meeting in Fargo, ND with my partner Jerry Nagel and two of our colleagues from Folkways. After the meeting I was headed to the airport to catch the first of my three flights to take me home to Halifax, NS. While still in the meeting I get a text and glancing at my phone, I read, “Your flight is now departing….”

Instantaneously, my heart rate accelerated into a whole new speed zone and my body started to shake as shock washed over me. I was in an immediate amygdala hijack. Then the hypothalamus began to kick in and my rational brain slowly woke up. The whole text message read, “Your flight is now departing at (a new time).” Even with a continued racing heart, I realized that the airline does not send text messages to you as your flight is about to depart. Typically from Fargo I am on an 11:00 am or a 1:00 pm flight. This day it was a 1:00 pm flight but the text came in around 11:00. In that moment of confusion, I thought I must have gotten my departure time mixed up – even though that is something I typically check, double check and triple check. And my brain panicked wondering how such a thing could have happened and what it was going to mean to my whole travel day – and none of this was conscious thought – it happened in a nano-second.

amygdala hijackAs messages are routed through the brain, the amygdala does an immediate threat assessment and, if a threat is perceived, blocks the routing to the slower thinking brain to ensure an immediate response: what is often referred to as the fight/flight/freeze response. While invaluable during the time we lived in caves and threats meant life and death, this response no longer serves most of us most of the time. Yet, we still experience it and we experience it often.

Not only is it sparked by the kind of situation described above, it is also sparked when you are triggered by a person, situation or event. Something happens, someone does something and you are triggered into a response where the rational brain is not functioning because your body has been flooded with cortisol (nicknamed the stress hormone) and a host of other chemical and hormonal changes that are not helpful or healthy in the long run (as in your immune system and anti-aging hormones drop dramatically). If you haven’t learned how to press the pause button, you may do or say something you will regret later.

Favourite argumentWe all have patterns of being triggered. There’s that favourite person who, when they show up, call or email, your body is already in full flight, fight or freeze response. Before you even know the content of the message or the reason for the call. When you default to your triggered response, you perpetuate the situation and you can make it worse because a cycle of response that feeds on itself is initiated.

And these triggers can become engrained patterns of response if they are not countered, creating deep neural pathways that evoke unconscious reactions time over time.

Becoming aware of what your triggers are, what your typical reactions are and how you usually respond gives you information and choice. The faster you can calm yourself down the faster cortisol decreases and your anti-aging and immune system hormones increase. You can develop a trigger response plan that you can activate at times when you notice you are triggered. You can create this by reflecting on what triggers you and what happens to you when you are triggered.

You can do it right now. Recall a situation or a person who triggers you. What happened during the situation you are recalling? How did you react when it happened? What bodily sensations did you experience? What thoughts were rolling through your mind? Was your “ittty-bitty-shitty committee” activated – you know, that internal voice trying to be helpful but really giving you a hard time? What emotions or feelings are you aware of? Your emotions are an important guidance system and contain a lot of useful information.

Understanding what your emotional response is telling you can be very helpful to understanding your experiences. This is where the six dimensions of Worldview Intelligence can be of service. Sometimes a trigger response is evoked because your value system is challenged, you vehemently disagree with the practices a person or organization is using or you feel like your own knowledge is invalidated, by way of examples. When you understand the underlying source of why you have been triggered you can get more quickly to options and choices for reacting or responding – including no response.

When you are triggered, what do you typically do? Withdraw? Lash out? Change the subject? How do your own actions impact your communication and/or your relationship? Is this what you want to happen or what you want to perpetuate? If not, how can you use your reflection of times you have been triggered to imagine different responses or different approaches?

The more often you reflect on and imagine alternative approaches the greater your potential to be intentional about your responses. The more you can envision what you want to achieve with the relationship and the communication the greater the likelihood of bringing Worldview Intelligence to situations that have triggered you in the past or when you have pressed the pause button on that amygdala hijack.