By Louis Tsai
I’m sitting on a wooden bench in a playground, where kids climb freely on monkey bars, race down metal slides and dance around the swings. It’s fascinating to see them play without barriers – they just show up and have fun. These days, adults aren’t interested in each other’s opinions because they only want to hear what reinforces their views.
In our democracy, elected officials mirror the true nature of people. If we are close-minded, they have a hard time adopting new thinking and handling unfamiliar problems. If we are biased, so is our legislation. If we have a narrow point of view, our leaders see the same way. If we can’t empathize, they become self-centered.
To fix our government, we need to open our minds. Here are five ways we can make fundamental changes in the way we think.
- Upgrade Your Mind
Imagine your mind as a box. If it’s dirty, new knowledge is tainted as soon as it enters. In an upside down box, new knowledge can’t enter. If the box has holes, new knowledge enters and leaves freely.
Reworking my mind to resist bias, stay focused and welcome new thinking is an ongoing process. It isn’t easy, but I believe the key is to listen intently to others, especially when opinions are disagreeable. This creates a culture of respect and helps our leaders in Washington work together to solve problems.
- Connect More Dots
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have,” Steve Jobs once said to Wired Magazine.
Steve was talking about creativity and design, but his approach to seeing, thinking and connecting the dots is the also the key to gaining new perspectives. We’re a long way from sending politicians to the moon, but in the meantime let’s discover more unfamiliar experiences and understand each other with greater clarity.
- Embrace Negative Feedback
“It’s very important to actively seek out and listen very carefully to negative feedback. This is something that people tend to avoid because it’s painful, but I think this is a very common mistake,” Elon Musk said to Foundation Podcast.
If you believe politicians are stuck in their ways, the American public is no different. The only way to evolve is to learn from our mistakes. By inviting criticism and taking it seriously, we can recognize what we can do better and act productively.
- But Think Positively
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky demonstrate that the choices we make are based often based on the easiest and least painful solutions. We may see ourselves as rational creatures, but reason is actually weak and easily overpowered. Not so great for building an open mind.
Instead, let’s make these vulnerabilities work for us. For example, most of us find conflict unpleasant. If the goal is to avoid distress, we can start from a mindset of collaboration to solve problems. When two sides take this position, they tend to feel better and get more things done.
- Practice Empathy
When you see a homeless person on the streets, we usually don’t think about the story behind the circumstance. Likewise, there is a reason behind what people think and what they do. It’s hard to put things into context unless we make a move to empathize.
During your next heated debate, ask yourself a few questions. How did this person arrive at this conclusion? Why do they feel the way they do? Where does my opinion stand with them? Do everything to place yourself in the other person’s shoes.
If we change the way we think using these principles, I believe we can create a world where politicians can make arguments without getting nasty, people can accept opposing views and media doesn’t sensationalize the truth to create a story. It’s hard to imagine and will take a lot of work, but there’s no reason we can’t make it happen.
Louis Tsai, a product designer, is the creator of Dark Horse, a mobile game designed to foster open mindedness. www.darkhorsegame.com.