December 12, 2018

Even Freethinkers Need People

woman hiding face in sweater

I recently found myself in a situation at work where I had to make a difficult decision quickly. I thought about it and decided on the course of action I would take. Fortunately, I was interrupted and had to set everything aside for a while to focus on something else. In the meantime, I mentioned the situation and my planned course of action to a co-worker. I expected that she'd express support for what I had decided. To the contrary, she challenged what I told her I had decided to do. I must have seemed surprised or even defensive because she stopped me at one point and said, "I'm just playing devil's advocate here."

As she explained why she thought I might be making a mistake, I realized that she had a point. I still thought I was right, but I couldn't deny that what she was saying made a lot of sense. I had been so sure of the decision I had made, but I was now wondering whether I needed to give it more thought. Maybe I had been too hasty. I figured I had a day at the most to delay taking action. There didn't seem to be any harm in using that time to collect some additional information and reconsider my decision.

As I thought more about what she had said, I realized that she was right. My decision had been motivated more by emotion than reason. While I could still defend my initial decision, it now seemed like more of an over-reaction. I didn't like to admit that to myself, but that was indeed the case. Now I felt stupid.

Although I had made the wrong decision, I was fortunate that I had not had the chance to act on it. I was even more fortunate that I had taken the opportunity to consult with someone who was able to change my mind. I reversed my decision and took a different course of action. I feel much better about it now, and I am convinced that what I ended up doing was far more defensible than what I almost did.

I visited my co-worker the next day and thanked her for setting me straight. She seemed caught off guard by this but also appreciative. I told her that she had prevented me from doing something stupid that I probably would have regretted. I said that I really appreciated her willingness to do that for me.

I know that many freethinkers take pride in our individuality, independence, willingness to challenge convention, and the like. This was a good reminder for me that these things can come at a price. They need to be balanced with a willingness to reach out to others and seriously consider perspectives that differ from our own. They need to be supplemented with a willingness to change our minds when presented with evidence or a persuasive argument. These things are part of freethought too even if they do not receive as much attention as they should.