Date your ideas, don't marry them

Future of Thinking

Often, we marry the wrong person. More often, we marry the wrong idea. Over time, I’ve learnt not to marry my ideas, but rather to marry the problems my ideas are born to tackle. Learning to entertain, debate and act on challenging ideas and problems has become a playful exercise in what I affectionately call “idea-sitting”.

The phrase was born from the realisation that many people feel attacked by ideas and opinions that challenge some aspect of their identity. This leads to phenomena such as cancel culture and the oppression Olympics, favoured by those with a certain political leaning as a way to eradicate critical counter-arguments from the narrative. We are all products of a dizzying combination of systemic oppressions and privileges. To erase someone’s view from the narrative before even listening to them, is to claim one's position upon an ego-centric pedestal of importance that is not reflective of our shared reality.

As Ezra Klein says, "In wielding identity as a blade, we lose it as a lens."

For me, idea-sitting is a way to respectfully listen to, play with and honour others’ opinions for a certain amount of time, even if those opinions challenge our identity. Another way to put it might be: loose convictions, loosely held. I’m all for strong conviction, but I believe strong conviction should have a basis in clear logic and critical thought, rather than adopted on a whim. When you have loose convictions, you become more open to ideas that challenge the canon and less susceptible to herd mentality.

This means that those who are best placed to tackle challenging problems are those who actively and regularly embrace the act of idea-sitting. Instead of casting themselves in the unrelenting chains of mainstream correctness, they allow themselves to dive headfirst into the playground of the unknown, which is often where innovation is born.

You can spot them quite easily. They hold everyone in the conversation in the same regard, despite differing political stances, cultural norms or intellectual beliefs. They choose to accept the reality that their own lived experiences have naturally created blind spots in their worldview. They choose to develop curiosity around how to fill those blind spots, rather than having them sit as a staunch chip upon their shoulder over the course of a lifetime.

Becoming a natural idea-sitter is a lifelong pursuit. While I personally find it relatively easy in the intellectual domain, I still find it quite challenging in the emotional realm. While it may be difficult, I regard it as one of the most worthy pursuits we could embark upon. Especially if we want to have a greater chance at solving some of society’s most complex problems.

February 9, 2024