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Friends Don't Let Friends Think Alone
Metacognition is the most important skill in the modern world...and we need other people to do it right.
Hello everyone. Happy Tuesday and I hope this finds you well. First, in case you missed it last week, Shane’s book, Setting the Bar, was published last week. Grab a copy here.
Today we’re looking at one of the greatest and rarely discussed costs of social isolation (either chosen or pandemic-driven). Let’s get into it!
From the Ages
Ralph Waldo Emerson on the humility to learn from others:
“Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.”
Matthew B. Crawford on metacognition:
“I call this an art because it requires both tact and doggedness. And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding.”
A common piece of feedback that Shane offers me about my writing is to ask, "do you even believe this?" Sometimes he will even highlight a sentence or whole section and declare, "this isn't you, you don't actually believe that." While humorous, humbling, and often frustrating, this is my favorite type of feedback. It makes me think, and think hard, about my own thinking.
This is metacognition.
Since wisdom often begins with the definition of terms, I offer my personal definition:
metacognition = thinking critically about your thinking and questioning not only the ideas themselves but examining the process (how and why) by which you arrived at them.
When Shane question's my thinking, he is rightly comparing the ideas in that piece of writing with my deeper nature, which he has come to know well. He's aware of my conflicting tendencies to be a hard-ass coach who values hard work and quality of effort above all else and my naturalistic, softer hippy side (that he calls kumbaya-Justin). I can easily make arguments from both stances, a strength that allows me to deepen my ideas. But I can, just as easily, write myself into a hole on only one side. I'm analytical, pedagogical, and enjoy making the firmest possible case that I can muster. I can become absorbed in this goal and pigeonhole my thinking down one particular aspect of the topic rather than building the comprehensive and nuanced collection of thoughts that I set out to write. Then Shane walks to the edge of the wonderfully constructed well I've just dug and shouts down, "why don't you come up for air, the view up here is fine."
He’s often correct, but other times the conflict is no conflict at all. Shane simply disagrees with my perspective. He is also fallible and not above making a snap judgment if an idea challenges a deeply held (read: emotional) belief. In other words, he has a few deep wells too.
The challenge is to know that difference. To avoid entrenching your beliefs or even your moment-to-moment thinking requires humility because as Matthew Crawford tells us above, "you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding." But I wonder if it also requires other people.
With training and intention, we can learn to spot logical fallacies in ourselves, especially the ones that we are most prone to commit. Writing, both for an audience (like you all) and privately in a journal, can put our thoughts in front of us in a way that separates them from our identity. On the page or the screen, it is much easier to take an objective view of them and far less painful to admit where they are wrong. But metacognition is ultimately a social process.
Metacognition might be the most important skill in the 21st century. It is the fundamental ingredient to the age-old wisdom to “know thyself.” But we can never truly know ourselves completely. With each new action, decision, and experience we are continually becoming ourselves. The best that we can accomplish is to examine and discover ourselves in each moment, particularly in the critical moments of critical thinking. This is metacognition.
We are social creatures and are not well-equipped to tackle alone tasks that nearly all humans before us tackled in a group. Hunting alone is far less successful than with a band. The nuclear family arrangement places far more strain on the parents than on the adults in tribal villages or cultures where grandparents move back into the home after a certain age. Just as with hunting and child-rearing, we require as much help as possible to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
You Might Also Enjoy:
A Timelapse View of the Earth and Sun from the Moon’s south pole. A very cool modeled view from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
A Visual Representation of Every Cognitive Bias. This is a repeat from last month but fits the theme today.
A Personal Update:
I just spent three nights out in the desert climbing rocks with a large group of friends from across several generations. I love the area and climbing, but I am most blown away with how, with very little planning and forethought, 19 people can instantly and easily become a cooperative little band who each freely give and take from the collective effort. There is a deep part of all humans that so yearns to step back into a tribal existence.
Thank you all for reading this week and remember, life is too short to be normal!