7.16. When Our Ideologies Try to Win, Our Society Loses

The ensuing arguments swallow up all our attempts to come to a reasonable solution, like a black hole.

“When you try to win, your relationship loses.”

That’s what couples counselors tell thousands of struggling couples in therapy, every day.

In an argument with your partner, if your primary goal is to win, to be “right,” to get your way, and to put your partner in their place…don’t expect to have a thriving relationship for long.

If, however, you focus on expressing yourself and listening respectfully in turn; on avoiding the deadly dynamics of constant criticism, contempt, and disengagement; on coming to a mutually agreeable solution, and prioritizing the well-being of the relationship over your desire for self-righteous retaliation…then you can have a happy, successful partnership, even though you may butt heads at times.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re right!

Heck, you may actually be right!

But it doesn’t matter!

This isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong.

It’s about the basic principles of good conflict resolution.

It’s about how to have a strong, thriving, respectful relationship, in spite of our disagreements.

Excessive, sweeping criticisms…relentless belittlement and condescension…trying to compel concessions, admissions of blame, and humiliation…withdrawing and bottling up hostility, instead of engaging in good faith—those things may make you feel good, or even seem like the right thing to do.

But the research is clear: those behaviors never work.

And yet we have a societal system of trying to sort out our ideological differences, built on those very behaviors.

We try to sort out our conflicting ideas, beliefs, and knowledge by making our sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and religions compete with each other for power, money, authority, and followers.

The ensuing arguments swallow up all our attempts to come to a reasonable solution, like a black hole.

They try to win. And as a result, we—ordinary people, and our entire society—lose.

We can’t just divorce each other.

We can’t just divide ourselves in half, and go our separate ways.

We need each other.

We need to reclaim our great project of human inquiry from the competitive behaviors we’ve imposed on it.

That’s why I’ve emphasized how there really aren’t any “irreconcilable differences.”

That’s why I’ve emphasized how even our best, most valuable belief systems are still riddled with omissions, oversimplifications, distortions, shortcuts, inaccuracies, and shortcomings.

That’s why I’ve emphasized changing how you believe, not what you believe.

The fact is: if you want social change, you need numbers.

But more than that, you need large numbers that aren’t simply working at odds with each other, cancelling each other out.

What makes our system of ideological warfare so insidious is it makes us feel like we have an army of millions of like-minded believers on our side, when really, there are many such armies of millions—and they’re all working against, rather than with each other.

We’ve got to put a stop to that.

We’ve got to figure out how to act collectively.

And that’s why collective action will be the topic of the next series of videos.


This is the 124th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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