Reality Check: A Strength of Less-Social Folks

Do you ever deliberately seek out information that you think you’ll disagree with? If so, why?
One reason could be curiosity: to see what “the other side” is thinking. Another reason could be to try to reduce the effect of confirmation bias on our viewpoints.
Confirmation bias involves looking only for information that confirms what we already believe. For example, let’s say that I believe that having a pet improves health and well-being. I’ll want to do some research on that, so I talk to people.
If I only talk to people who share my belief, I’ll become even more convinced that it’s correct. They confirm what I already “know;” obviously anyone who doesn’t share this belief is wrong. How can there be skeptics when everyone we know agrees with us?
If you’ve read these columns regularly, you know that I promote this perspective: “We have more satisfying lives if we can build good relationships and get along with people.” While that’s easier said than done, the concept sounds non-controversial enough.
However, because there are two sides to most everything, I occasionally look around for different perspectives—to reduce my own confirmation bias. Thus, an article from Human Progress titled, “Disagreeability, Mother of Invention” caught my eye.
To be clear, although the title referred to disagreeability, it wasn’t necessarily about people who are disagreeable. Rather it was about folks who prefer to be less social—loners and independents.
Do you know anybody like that? I bet you can think of someone—maybe an eccentric aunt or some peculiar guy who doesn’t like to socialize. It might even be you! Think of that person as you read on.
For many problems, there can be a social solution or a technical solution. A social solution involves other people; a technical one more likely involves a tool or machine.
A simple example in the disagreeability article was how to get sunscreen rubbed on your back. The social solution is to ask a friend. A technical solution would be to invent some kind of sunscreen-rubbing apparatus. That’s more complicated, but you don’t need anyone else to do it.
Much of human achievement involves cooperation, division of labour, sharing knowledge. Building a house, curing a disease, even manufacturing something so seemingly simple as a pencil requires people, knowledge, and processes all working toward the same end. That requires social skills: the ability to communicate and cooperate.
If you want something done and you are not inclined to ask for help, then you have to figure out a way to do it yourself. That requires innovation. And while every invention is not going to be world-changing or patent-worthy, the ability to innovate is of high value.
Each of us has our skills and strengths along with our challenges. It’s helpful to have the ability to ask for help (or directions). But if you struggle with social skills, you may have an equally valuable strength if you are able to respond to problems with independence and innovation.
When faced with a challenge, some people will ask, “Who can help me?” Others will ask, “How can I figure out a way to do this myself?”
Which approach is more appealing to you?

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