Friday, April 17, 2009

Reversal as a Path to Understanding

In e-mail discussions with a correspondent in another country, I have hit upon a method of bridging deeply embedded biases of largely cultural origin that I thought I would share with the world. It's very simple: switch sides.

What if people were able to do this, gaining similar insights as we did, along a whole variety of issues? What if we held a debate at some hallowed hall of Harvard or Yale in which
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued for the illegitimacy of the State of Israel and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended the right of Israel to exist?
  • Barack Obama were to spout the anti-liberal rhetoric, while Rush Limbaugh took up the defense of every position of the Obama Administration?
  • Richard Dawkins were to be an apologist for Catholicism and Joseph Ratzinger, the pope, to rant about the likely nonexistence of any deity?
  • Gloria Steinem were to defend the traditional roles of women, while Phyllis Schlafly were to defend feminist single moms having everything including a cracked job ceiling?
I really think this is a kind of solution to handle disagreements. You learn that everything the other guy is saying is not complete and absolute bunk, but also that your own position has its weaknesses. You also see how you might espouse the other view given a different personal history and culture.

Role reversal is a technique I intend to continue to use in all my interactions whenever conflict arises. I really believe in it.


Anonymous said...

Isn't that simply "old news"? From "walking in another's mocassins" to "seeing God in the other"?

Of course, I recognize that it isn't least not much.

Very good luck!

Joan19 said...

A great idea which has a respectable history within social psychology going back to about 1957.

Diane in DC said...

I have tried that same sort of thing with someone at work lately. I try to get her to understand the other person's point of view based on their experiences. How would you feel if you had been on this job for 30 years and constantly training new people who end up leaving. This person I tried to explain this to is the most self centered person I have ever met so when I question her in this way, she looks very puzzled. I agree it is probably an old concept, but I think in general it is not thought of as much as it used to be. Great Post!

Cecilieaux said...

I didn't think I had come up with this idea before everyone else -- although Joan appears to have some specifics in mind that I wish she would share.

I do want to clarify. This is more than merely empathizing. This is actually taking on the point of view of the other and defending it as best one can, like a lawyer paid to defend a murderer.

Anonymous said...

How can one empathize with anyone, when you know they are dead wrong? How does one try to submit to the opinions of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O., or anyone of their ilk? How does one place thrmselves in the shoes of a crazed gunman aiming ar you?


Anne said...

I don't think we really have to, especially since most of us don't have face to face contact. Civility allows us to counter-argue in good manner (if for instance it is a national figure via newspapers), while keeping in mind all the court-like circumstances that permits mitigating factors. "Limbaugh is bombastic because.."

If we follow the tenets of whatever figure we admire, a statesman, philospher, religious figure..and ususal those that we do (at least you & I) have the same fine sense of justice, reversal such as what Cecilieaux proposes helps us to bring what good there is in a person to light and allows us to focus on it against a fuller backdrop. (There are words you might be familiar with "Look not upon..."

As far as dealing with insanity, every defence is to be used to deal with the moment...and hopefully there are survivors, victim or perpetrator to give over to law which is hopefully there to deal with what we can not.

For me the things that have downright turned me off in a person become more tolerable.