Not Really Having This Argument

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the relationships between truth, belief, and empathy.

Human beings seek knowledge and truth. At the same time, we all have belief. Truth is scientifically verifiable, and our belief is not always related to what is true. If something is true, we do not need to believe it. It is still true.

For things to work in science and engineering, we need truth. We need truth, replicability, and understanding of causal relationships between things. It is about building bridges that do not fall or collapse in random. The bridge will stay intact or fall apart because of the laws of physics, not because of what we believe.

Many things in our lives and cultures are based on belief. Chevy versus Ford. Yankees versus Red Sox. At the end of the season, fans do not switch side just because one team beats the other in the playoff. What it means to be a fan is that we believe in our team. It is not because we have proof that our team is better.

Often, we get into an argument of what is true versus what we believe. We also like to think that what we believe is also true. Religion and politics are two easy examples. Some people feel like they need to persuade others that something is true because that is something they believe.

We need to be cognizant of the fact that two conversations are going on in parallel. One conversation is about feelings and beliefs, something human beings need to get through the day. The other conversation is about physics, math and science. When we mix the two conversations and have an argument, we amplify our belief but miss the point.

With science getting better at exposing the truth, we have a difficult choice to make. The choices are either “to accept the truth by suspending our belief” or “to deny the truth by accepting our belief.” We are not accustomed to either of those choices, and that is a source of conflict of our culture right now.

We see the conflict between truth and belief all the time in direct selling. Prospective buyers often use objections to support their belief. The obligating question can help to expose the truth about the prospect’s commitment level. The answer to the question is the prospect’s way of demonstrating their belief, sharing their frustration, and exposing their fear.

To practice empathy effectively is to distinguish the difference between truth and belief. The answer often is not to prove that we are right. Rather, the answer is to see the person that you are engaging with for who they are, for what they believe, for what they are afraid of, and where they are seeking to go. It is not easy but necessary. When we mix the arguments about truth and belief, we are not talking about what we think we are discussing.