There are several possibilities for this, let’s first look at the possibilities when you are correct i.e. they are not thinking deeply about some topic why that might be:
- They don’t have an interest in the topic. The fact is that none of us have the time or capacity to think deeply about every possible topic, we must prioritize where we focus our thoughts. For most topics it is not reasonable to expect people to care enough about it to dedicate a significant amount of thought to it.
- They may not have sufficient background in the topic in order to form the necessary mental framework to think about the topic in any significant level of depth. This is not to say that they are not capable of deep thought, just that they are not well versed in a particular area, no one is an expert at everything, after all. If they tell you they don’t know much about a subject, you should be happy that they aren’t trying to pretend to understand something they don’t.
- Perhaps you are over thinking things, perhaps it’s really a simple matter of preference, or worse you are forming mental connections that don’t really exist (i.e. it’s not that they aren’t thinking deeply enough it’s that you’re thinking too deeply).
Then it’s possible that they really are thinking deeply, yet you perception is that they are not. There are number of possible explanations for this as well, for example:
- They do not wish to have a debate so they are feigning ignorance.
- They may even agree with you, but for political reasons have chosen to pretend to hold the more popular opinion.
- You mistakenly believe that if people think deeply about a topic they will come to the same conclusion, this is a fallacy.
- Perhaps they have difficulty articulating their position, or they don’t want to spend the time necessary if their position is complex.
- Perhaps they have done an excellent job articulating their position yet you still failed to understand them.
- Perhaps you are simply making assumptions about them, and you really have no idea what they think. Have you even had a conversation with them about it, or do you assume you already ‘know’ what they are thinking and never bother to actually ask them.
- Perhaps they didn’t realize you were interested.
- Perhaps you are fooling yourself into believing that you are thinking deeply, if most people really do disagree with you, you have to at least entertain the possibility that it’s you, not them. Just because you put a lot of thought into something doesn’t mean that you really understand it, you could be making incorrect assumptions or there could be a flaw in your logic (of course the same is possible for other people but don’t be so quick to assume that it’s them).
Regardless of what the case may be, it’s important to keep an open mind. Be careful not to make assumptions or to over generalize. Be cognizant of the fact that disagreement is not an indicator of lack of thought, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean that they don’t have an equally well thought out reasoning to support their beliefs. Also realize that most topics lack an absolute truth, there’s just varying shades of gray; even if there is an absolute truth don’t be foolish enough to think you’re the only one who has figured it out.
Act with respect.
The more mature you become, the more you realize you know nothing at all.
Through life experiences, learning and general inquisition we expand, we realize that the reality we saw was in fact a small possibility in a universe of many.
As teenagers we think we know everything, we rebel and push boundaries in hopes of proving ourselves mature enough for the real world. As adults we laugh at that former self and realize that our parents were right. The older we become, the more people we meet etc layers of our naivety are shed one by one.
We are only as deep as we believe we are and in reality it’ll never be “deep” enough. We can only evolve and expand how we approach thought, but that is only possible when what we believed to be real is challenged.
Consider the example of two Englishmen from the 18th century (a time when duels were still fought).
Samuel Johnson, who single-handedly produced the first English dictionary, wrote poems and literary criticism that earned him a royal pension, presided over a literary club that included some of the most famous men of the age, and who was constantly followed around by a sycophantic friend who noted down his every word, was accustomed to telling anyone of whatever degree of wealth or social rank that they were ignoramuses and fools, if he disagreed with them.
He got away with that because so many influential men were in awe of him for the power of his mind and his command of the language. If you were in a room where he was and engaged in conversation, someone next to you might shush you with the admonition “Dr. Johnson is about to speak!” When he died, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, and those who knew him insisted that he was like no one else they had ever encountered.
You and I are not Johnson, no matter how smart we may be, and are not surrounded by an influential circle of admirers who will show, by their example, that it is their privilege to put up with any degree of verbal abuse from us if their thinking falls short of our exalted standards.
A man 15 years older than Johnson was Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield. Chesterfield had something of a career as a diplomat and pacified Ireland but, more importantly, he wrote a series of letters to his son that have defined politeness and social savoir faire for two centuries. (Johnson, with characteristic bluntness, described Chesterfield’s letters as teaching “the morals of a harlot and the manners of a dancing master.”) Chesterfield had this to say:
“But here let me, as an old stager upon the theatre of the world, suggest one consideration to you; which is, to extend your desire of praise a little beyond the strictly praiseworthy; or else you may be apt to discover too much contempt for at least three parts in five of the world, who will never forgive it you. In the mass of mankind, I fear, there is too great a majority of fools and, knaves; who, singly from their number, must to a certain degree be respected, though they are by no means respectable. And a man who will show every knave or fool that he thinks him such, will engage in a most ruinous war, and against numbers much superior to those that he and his allies can bring into the field. Abhor a knave, and pity a fool in your heart; but let neither of them, unnecessarily, see that you do so. Some complaisance and attention to fools is prudent, and not mean; as a silent abhorrence of individual knaves is often necessary and not criminal.”
Chesterfield had a point. I listened to a series of tapes some years ago and came away with a very useful phrase, “I can appreciate what you’re saying.” When you listen to someone explain that Obama is a secret Muslim or something equally nutty, you can say something like “I can’t really agree, but I can appreciate what you’re saying. His father was from another country, and his first two names are ‘Barack Hussein.’ Here is how I look at it…”
And then calmly make a sensible point or two, supported by something you’ve read, and leave it at that. Often, your calm manner will make more of an impression than if you cited every statistic out of the CIA Fact Book. And in the end, people will think what they think, no matter what better-informed people say.
If you make a show of going against the majority, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention or that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.
People who flaunt their infatuation with different ideas, different thoughts and different cultures are often looked at as expressing a disdain and contempt of the common ideas, thoughts and cultures. Otherwise they would act with more dignity and respect for those who do not share the same thoughts and ideas.
If you are the one with a different idea, it can become a dangerous idea or thought. If the majority don’t immediately like it, you risk becoming the black sheep. They keys are knowing when to present the dangerous ideas, how you present these dangerous ideas and thoughts and only doing it to the right people.
It is an old but powerful trick: You pretend to disagree with dangerous ideas, but in the course of your disagreement you give those ideas expression and exposure. You seem to conform to the prevailing opinion or thoughts, but those who know will understand the irony involved. This gives you protection.
It is inevitable in society that certain values, customs and traditions will fade away or become unacceptable. There will always be those who rebel against this. Wise people will realize that there is no point in making a display of your dangerous ideas if they are only going to bring back negative results upon themselves. Martyrdom serves little purpose, it’s better to live on in an oppressive world, even thrive in it. Meanwhile, find a way to express your ideas subtly for those who understand you. Laying your gold, unprotected, in front of a stranger will only bring you trouble.
“For a long time I have not said what I believed, nor do I ever believe what I say, and if indeed sometimes I do happen to tell the truth, I hide it among so many lies that it is hard to find”
We all tell lies to hide our true feelings, for complete free expression is a social impossibility. Think about the cliché loaded questions like “Do these pants make my butt look big?” From an early age we learn to conceal our thoughts, telling the prickly and insecure what we know they want to hear, watching carefully to not offend them.
For most of us, this is natural. There are ideas and values that most people accept, and it is pointless to argue. We believe what we want to, but on the outside we wear a mask.
There are people, however, who see restraining like this as intolerable and an infringement on their freedom, and who have a need to prove the superiority of their values and beliefs. In the end, their arguments convince only a few and offend a great deal more. The reason arguments do not work is that most people hold their ideas and values without thinking about them. There is a strong emotional content in their beliefs: They really do not want to have to rework their habits of thinking (we’re creatures of habit), and when you challenge them, whether directly through your arguments or indirectly through your behavior, they become hostile.
Wise and clever people learn early on that they can display conventional behavior and mouth conventional ideas without having to believe in them. The power these people gain from blending in is that of being left alone to have the thoughts they want to have, and to express them to the people they want to express them to, without suffering isolation or ostracism. Once they have established themselves in a position of power, they can try to convince a wider circle of the correctness of their ideas – perhaps working indirectly, using strategies of insinuation and irony.
The herd shuns the black sheep, uncertain whether or not it belongs with them. So it straggles behind, or wanders away from the herd, where it is cornered by wolves and promptly devoured. Stay with the herd, there is safety in numbers. Keep your differences in your thoughts, not in your fleece.
This is a good question. Not trying to toot my own horn, but I’ve struggled with this. Just understand that 99% of the time you aren’t going to reach any of these people trying to argue rationally, or using an alternate outlook. Spare your effort for the ones who are worth it. Other suggestions I’ve heard is studying anthropology and communications as a way of understanding how to reach them.
What you have to understand is that it’s likely you grew up seeing the world quite differently from most of the population, and you can’t relate to how most see it. Accept that. You may have a better bead on what’s going on than most of them, but that doesn’t mean you can use a rational method to communicate what you see with most people.
Look at what people care most about, and get excited about: relationships/social connections, celebrities, musicians, sports figures, movies/stories that promote fantasy, etc. We can denigrate that and call it “stupid,” but you aren’t simply going to wipe it away. That reality is still going to impact on you. So find a way to either deal with the consequences of that for yourself, or a way to try to inspire those to aspire to something beyond the trivial, where that’s the only way they can relate right now. A hint is, if you choose the latter, you’re going to need to use some of those things I mentioned that people care most/get excited about. Take out the verbiage and deep thinking. Show some meaning, or what can be accomplished with deep thinking, and maybe some will become inspired to give it a try.
As an example, I’ve seen someone do what I’ve described, and it worked on me ( 🙂 though I can’t say how many others were inspired. All I can say for myself is that I was ready for some pathway into deeper thinking, and this offered that pathway. I was very thankful for the effort that was put into it.