Show, don’t tell, your understanding

“Those who receive the bare theories immediately want to speak them, as an upset stomach does it food. First digest your theories and you won’t throw them up.” – Epictetus.

It is in our actions not our explanations that we display our true understanding. There are levels of understanding and simply reading about something is not enough. We often are subject to recency bias on something we have just read, confidently talking about it.

Until my behaviour, thoughts and actions are influenced. I cannot claim to understand something. I need to show my understanding.

To develop a deeper understanding, I like to use the following:

  1. Seek contrarian opinions to fight confirmation bias – if I say/think something is wrong, but others believe it to be true, then I challenge myself before challenging them.
  2. Listen – too often I am only half listening, while trying to hold clearly in my head 2-3 “facts” to improve the speakers point of view, waiting for them to take a breath, so I can interrupt them (commonly referred to as waiting my turn), I should rather want to improve my view first.
  3. Journal and reflect – We live by hidden scripts ingrained through our experiential learning, that are embedded in how we have experienced the world. These need to be challenged with “Why do I think that?
  4. Understand multiple sides – it is a sign of intelligence to be able to entertain two opposing thoughts at the same time. I find it sad when people are called out for something they wrote years ago. It is sadder when they still consistently believe the same, where is the growth?
  5. Grapple with an idea, meditate on it.
  6. Accept that it is okay to have no view – Sometimes I qualify a view before stating it, with something like “I’m still working on this.

To be clear, I have not and do not always follow this, rather it is what I aim for, and it is highly unlikely for me to hit a target that I am not aiming for. Better, not perfect.

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