Link: Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later

I’m a big fan of Steven Pinker’s writing (I know that this isn’t fashionable with the social justice warriors, but there it is) and so was really happy to read his 10 000 word response to some of the criticisms of his latest book, Enlightenment Now. While reviews of the book were overwhelmingly positive many bloggers and online commentators really took a dislike to Pinker’s arguments, sometimes seemingly because of who else liked the book (e.g. Bill Gates). In many cases, where Pinker uses data and links to sources to support his claims, his critics generally go for straw man arguments and ad hominem attacks.

Pinker’s response is a long read but it’s also a really good example of how to respond to a critique of your academic work. He doesn’t take it personally and simply does what he is good at, which is marshalling the available evidence to support his arguments. If you like Steven Pinker (and science and rationality in general) you may enjoy this post.

Here is the link:

SAFRI: conflict resolution

Someone told me that the SAFRI programme had changed their life, and I remember thinking that that might be taking it a bit far. But today brought me closer to thinking that it might not be that far from the truth. It wasn’t so much the content of the session, but the reflection and discussion that happened as a result of an exercise on conflict management. During the session, I was able to confront a part of me that isn’t the rational, logical person I usually think I am, and gave me a greater appreciation for the poor souls who have to try and understand why I think and do things so differently to them.

We spent a lot of time talking about the different approaches to managing conflict, with people who share similar psychological attributes identifying with certain approaches. I realised that I have ways of dealing with difficult situations that aren’t shared by most other people (I was the only person in my group, besides the facilitator, as opposed to 3 other groups of almost 10 in each group). My MBTI type is:

  • Introvert – draw energy by looking internally, prefer reflection over action, prefer written communication
  • iNtuitive – prefer theory and abstraction, imaginative, desire change
  • Thinker – use logic and objectivity to make decisions, remain detached, truthful rather than tactful
  • Perceiver – remain open and adapt to new information, be flexible, enjoy surprises, routines are limiting

The exercise I got the most out of today was to analyse a conflict and reflect on my own responses, as well as how I respond to the responses of others. Here’s the short reflection I put together after a few minutes of discussion with the facilitator:

I approach conflict logically, which is good for mediating the conflict of 3rd parties, but not so good when I’m personally involved. While other personality types might avoid conflict, I will sometimes create it by playing devil’s advocate. I’ll probe and push buttons to get a reaction and will sometimes take an opposing viewpoint just to have an interesting discussion (I’ll also not understand when the other party doesn’t appreciate this attempt to engage with them).

When I am involved in a conflict, I experience a rapid escalation of my own emotional response if I feel that those emotions aren’t being acknowledged, yet I have no natural tendency to acknowledge the emotions of other’s (“I’m right, so you must be wrong”). If my emotions are not acknowledged, I tend to withdraw and switch off emotionally. In those cases I find it difficult to let go and will definitely refuse to acknowledge the other person’s emotion…as a form of retribution (when I write it down like this, it seems insane, but in the moment, it’ perfectly clear to me).

On the other hand, if my emotions are acknowledged, there is a complete collapse of my resistance and I’m able to move towards resolution. However, I struggle to close the issue and will often find myself prolonging an argument to make the point that “I’m right”. When I do manage to avoid that and the conflict is resolved, I forget about it in minutes.

This experience,  and the wonderful conversations it generated afterwards, really gave me a greater insight into who I am, as well as how I relate to others. For the rest of the day I was acutely aware that almost everyone else in the room sees, and responds to the world differently to me, which I found both sobering (“I’m alone”) and inspiring (“I’m special”).