Are there people in your life who drive you up the wall because they hold very different beliefs from yours? Maybe you’ve drifted from friends and family members because conversations turn heated and hostile whenever you try to change their minds.
Konrad Benjamin is the creator of Ideas Digest, a podcast that aims to build bridges of connection between world views at war. “Politicians, religions, algorithms and mainstream media make money on dividing us all and building higher and higher walls around us”.
When I first listened to the Ideas Digest Podcast, I was struck by the gentle rebellion. This was Konrad’s commitment to looking beneath the surface, searching for empathic connection, and meeting people in good faith, even in the most challenging conversations.
These are practices that the world needs more of right now.
- Changing and Softening Minds | 3:17
- What Are Ideas? | 12:41
- Making Our Minds Up | 16:51
- How We Hold Others When We Encounter Them | 21:02
- Our Fixed Mind Illusions | 24:50
- Distance Not Difference Hardens Minds | 33:32
- Foundational Assumptions and The Expectations We Carry | 36:45
- What REALLY Changes/Softens Minds? | 45:47
- The Story of The Mustard Seed | 52:59
It’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded people around the world. There are also many ways to mute, block, and walk away from people who think differently. And while this can be a helpful soothing balm at times, it also has a damaging impact on our ability to encounter and engage with people when we don’t see eye to eye.
Views, ideas, and beliefs become entrenched, and we dehumanise those we can lump into “people like that”.
This trajectory has clear implications. We’ve probably all experienced its impact in different ways.
Changing and Softening Minds | 3:17
As I’ve often said, gentleness is not about being weak and passive in conflict. It’s about approaching the path ahead with the best tools for the job. It places space and time between the stimulus and response. And meets the world with a firm back and soft front (humility, curiosity, and a meaningful sense of vision) rather than a brittle back and a rigid front (firing weapons while hiding from the world).
We react to the present and create the future in the same movement. How we act today as individuals and collectives set the tone for the world we encounter tomorrow.
Prohibition Doesn’t Change Minds; It Hardens Them | 9:44
I asked Konrad what drives him to talk with people whose ideas he might instinctively oppose. He says, “these ideas are not going away”, and suggests we have a choice to make. We can push them underground or seek to understand where they are coming from so we can consider and respond to their roots.
Cultural and social prohibitions often occur at a symptomatic level. But we know from history that banning things, while it might make them disappear from view temporarily, can lead to more extreme expressions down the line.
We might mistake coerced silence for willing consent. But when this happens, the mind that feels silenced becomes hardened. It doubles down, seeks allies, and prepares to fight back.
What Are Ideas? | 12:41
I find ideas mindblowing. Not any particular views, just that we have THEM in the first place. We can imagine, think about, and process completely abstract concepts—things we cannot see in a physical sense. We can then turn them into objects, systems, and experiences. Whoa!
In this episode, I aimed to look at how we hold ideas. What do we attach to our beliefs? How do these thoughts define us? What is at stake if we change our minds? How do we hold other people and their ideas? Do we see the person beneath the belief, or do we encounter humans at their word and no deeper?
Ideas come in all shapes and forms. They can help us make sense of the contradictions and differences at the heart of life. They can help us understand who we are and what has shaped us. Our ideas and beliefs help us alleviate both momentary and existential fears. And they can give us direction and focus in everyday life. They can free us, and they can imprison us.
Making Our Minds Up | 16:51
What causes you to make up your mind? Have you ever noticed where your beliefs, views, and judgements are formed?
What do we do with our ideas?
In his book, Think Again, Adam Grant suggests that we hold our ideas in four ways. This informs our readiness, flexibility, and willingness to change our minds.
We might say with certainty that we’ve found the truth. We decide that it’s down to us to share this with the world and help them see the light.
We might play the zero-sum game. The argument is won or lost, so we become committed to proving the other person is wrong.
In both positions, only one mind is allowed to change…that of the other person.
We might need to win over support from people. So we give the impression of flexibility and openness. But we’re just saying what the other person wants to hear so that they give us what we want.
We are humble in our curiosity to recognise what we don’t know and scrutinise existing conventions and convictions to discover new information. Grant says, “the scientist mindset says, I will not let my ideas become an ideology”.
Opinions are hypotheses. We hold them up to playful questioning so they can evolve-not affirm- what we already know. The mind is poised to be changed. We don’t have to resist being wrong. We can invite it.
How We Hold Others When We Encounter Them | 21:02
In his Last Supper video, Peter Rollins talks about four ways we might encounter people who have practices and beliefs different from our own:
- Consume Them – take their differences and try to make them conform to ours. But if we can’t change them, we might…
- Vomit Out – if the other person can’t be domesticated, we want to get them out of our community
- Tolerance – we can exist together as long as their strange beliefs and practices are kept behind closed doors
- Finding Agreement – we can dialogue together and find the ocean we share beneath the streams of our different beliefs
The problem Peter sees in all four positions is they take the same starting position: “I’m right, and I’m judging you”. The first three say, “I’m right, and you’re wrong”, and the fourth position says, “we’re both right”.
Our Fixed Mind Illusions | 24:50
“Have you ever noticed that everyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”George Carlin
In Mindwise, Nicholas Epley writes, “if the illusions you hold about your own brain lead you to believe that you see the world as it actually is and you find that others see the world differently, then they must be the ones who are biased, distorted, uninformed, ignorant, unreasonable, or evil.”
Peter Rollins suggests later in the video that in a genuine multicultural connection with another, we first see the other person as weird and monstrous. But when we take the time to see ourselves through the other person’s eyes, we experience our beliefs and practices as strange and monstrous. These beliefs are no longer held to be “right”, but we realise they are contingent, historical, and can be questioned.
This doesn’t undermine our beliefs and practices but allows us to experience them in a new way.
It turns out that everyone on the road (including us) is both an idiot and a maniac.
Universality and Non-Belonging | 25:50
In this sense, there is no way to belong. The lines we draw, the boxes we put people in, and the labels we use to define one another are never enough. They are both incomplete and too much at the same time. Todd McGowan has produced some fascinating work on the universality of non-belonging.
Distance Not Difference Hardens Minds | 33:32
Maybe we become disconnected from humanity, not by difference but by distance. The suggestion is that with proximity comes the potential for understanding at a human level. To see the question beneath the question. The need beneath the expression.
Alain de Botton suggests that we share meals with those who disagree with us.
“Sitting down at a table with a group of strangers has the incomparable and odd benefit of making it a little more difficult to hate them with impunity. Prejudice and ethnic strife feed off abstraction. However, the proximity required by a meal – something about handing dishes around, unfurling napkins at the same moment, even asking a stranger to pass the salt – disrupts our ability to cling to the belief that the outsiders who wear unusual clothes and speak in distinctive accents deserve to be sent home or assaulted. For all the large-scale political solutions which have been proposed to salve ethnic conflict, there are few more effective ways to promote tolerance between suspicious neighbours than to force them to eat supper together.”Alain de Botton
This is a fascinating idea. One way to invite our minds to be softened together. To see each other at the level of our humanity before we interrogate their thoughts, practices, or beliefs.
Foundational Assumptions and The Expectations We Carry | 36:45
My friend Megan posted a Tweet a while back. It said:
“Just because I don’t like what this person is saying doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”
I added to the thread:
- “Just because everyone agrees with me, it doesn’t mean I’m right”.
- “Just because someone disagrees with me, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong”.
Then someone contributed:
- “Just because I dislike someone doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”
- “Just because I like someone doesn’t mean they’re right.”
- “Just because I like someone they dislike doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”
- “Just because they like someone I dislike doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”
And another person commented:
- “Someone wrong about things before may be right this time.”
- “Someone right about things before may be wrong this time.”
I thought these were helpful reminders.
What Are Your Foundational Assumptions?
Konrad talked about going into conversations with some foundational assumptions from which to connect. This allows us to take seriously our role in creating the future we want to be part of.
What do we want to believe that will help shape or direct our encounter in a way that assists a deeper vision or set of values we hold?
Konrad says you can argue with his foundational assumptions and disprove them, but that’s not the point. They are tools, not facts. We use them to shape our encounters in constructive ways. For example…
Good Faith (people are inherently good, not evil)
We are doing our best with what we have…experiences, circumstances, and influences around us.
Facts Don’t Change Minds
James Clear says, “Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.”
If I realise that I’m not going to change your mind, we can connect in other ways. Those different ways can be far more enriching than trying to win an argument.
People don’t respond to logic until they feel seen and heard at a human level.
We see a lot of “Logic Bullying” in the modern world. One of Adam Grant’s students described him as a Logic Bully when, rather than listening to what she was saying, he shut down her feelings and needs using cold hard facts. He dismissed her worries, diminishing the truth of what she felt at that moment.
I’m Not Important Enough To Change Your Mind
“Calling this out” will not do anything other than push people into corners. We can hold one another accountable for our actions and choices without resorting to moral grandstanding and drawing tribal battlelines. If, as Konrad says, we assume that the stakes are lower because we’re small, we can connect at a human level and invite proper accountability and responsibility for the things we say, do, and believe.
Every Position Is a Strategy To Meet a Need | 43:18
I like to remember that “hurt people hurt people”. And that anger is an expression of pain and the only available and acceptable way many people have to process their feelings.
When people feel lonely, afraid, and unseen, they find strategies to hoard safety, protection, and a sense of significance. We ALL have a complex and ever-changing set of human needs. When those needs are not met, we can do terrible things. If our terrible things are met with more rejection and pain, those terrible things can escalate.
Empathy isn’t about accepting and tolerating the strategy, belief, or idea. It’s about seeing the person BENEATH their strategy, opinion, or statement. Sometimes it just takes feeling seen to lessen our attachment to those things and maybe even let them go altogether.
What REALLY Changes/Softens Minds? | 45:47
I asked Konrad about experiences he has had of changing his mind. What causes it to happen? Who can do it?
How has your mind changed in the past? What factors were involved?
Maybe it’s the stuff life throws at you. In processing a situation or experience, you perhaps realise that not everything is as it seemed before.
Brittle Fragility and Weak Minds | 51:34
Binaries, opposites and black and white thinking lead to brittle fragility. They easily break when our minds cannot change, soften, or expand. If we are afraid of changing, softening, or expanding, we spend focus, energy, and attention on gathering information to protect, reinforce, and solidify our position. We shrink into a narrower and narrower hole, living from a place of defence and attack rather than creative expansion and curious exploration.
Letting Minds Be Changed
Humans are stubborn creatures; we would often rather keep doing something we don’t want to do than concede to a change that someone else is forcing us to make. Or at least that’s true for me. How can we create conditions and space for our minds (and others) to be softened and keep shifting, evolving, and growing?
The Story of The Mustard Seed | 52:59
A mother is completely devastated after the death of her young child. She walks around town with the child bound to her chest, unable to come to terms with her loss and let go.
Desperate to bring him back to life she learns of someone in the mountains who can help. So the mother finds the wise woman who reassures her, telling her she can give her what she needs. All she needs is to bring her a single mustard seed from a household in the town that has never known loss or grief.
The bereaved mother sets off, knocking one door after another but to no avail. The simple request cannot be granted. She spends many hours in each home, learning about her neighbours and sharing her own tragic tale. As they cry, laugh, and reminisce together, the mother comes to see that stories of loss, grief, and pain sit behind every door in town. After a while she is able to come to terms with what has happened, and is able to bury her child’s body.
Someone is knocking at the door every day. Do we see THEM? Do we recognise what they are asking for? If their needs are wrapped up in some chaotic and messy stuff, can we hear the question beneath it?
I finished by asking Konrad what he would say if that knock at the door came. And we had an interesting chat about the door as a bridge between us.
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