A reader sent me a note a few days ago remarking that while he didn’t share my politics, he felt he was able to really listen to what I have to say, rather than tuning out what he didn’t want to hear. He suspected it had to do with the creative spirit, the connection you feel with another person you know is trying their best to bring new, beautiful things into the world.
I immediately thought of my friend Alan Jacobs, who writes in his book, How To Think, that if you really want to explore ideas in an environment conducive to good thinking, you should consider hanging out with “people who are not so much like-minded as like-hearted,” people who are “temperamentally disposed to openness and have habits of listening.”
I loved this idea so much it was one of the first things I asked Alan about when I interviewed him last year at Bookpeople. Here is his full response:
You know what it’s like to be around people who share your core convictions… and yet you can’t stand to be around them. In one sense, they’re your “in” group, in another sense, it’s like, “When can I leave this party?” It can be stultifying. And it closes you off to spend all your time around people who may be like-minded, but whose spirit is unhealthy. They’re just not fun people to be around.
I started thinking about the fact that back when Twitter was more or less inhabitable by human beings (some years ago), I met a number of people on Twitter, including [you], and then at one point I decided it was just getting too poisonous, but I didn’t want to lose all those friends, so I made a private Twitter account.
There’s about 100 people there. When I was deciding who do I want to be talking with on social media, I realized it wasn’t necessarily the people who agreed with me about all of my religious beliefs or political beliefs. What I wanted was people who were generous. And kind. And caring. And thoughtful. So that when I said something, they would think about it, rather than just simply react.
That’s how I chose my company on social media. I chose to be around people whose disposition and whose character I found trustworthy. So that when I’m with them, I feel good about being in their presence. And I don’t always feel good about being in the presence of people who might, you know, if you made a list of 100 core beliefs, they might line up more, but they’re just not people I want to spend much time with.
I really think that matters. If you trust in the character and the generosity of people, one of the things you can do is you can take risks in your thinking a little bit. You can say, “Hey, I’m not sure about this, let me try this idea out on you.” You can count on them giving you an honest but also charitable response. If you can find a body of people like that… you’re incredibly blessed. It’s a fantastic thing to have. Not everybody has that. When you do have it, it not only makes you a happier person, I think it makes you a better thinker, as well.
More in How To Think.