Talking to Strangers
What We Should Know About the People We Don't KnowBook - 2019
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There is no perfect mechanism for the CIA to uncover spies in its midst, or for investors to spot schemers and frauds, or for any of the rest of us to peer, clairvoyantly, inside the minds of those we do not know. What is required of us is restraint and humility. We can put up barriers on bridges to make it more difficult for that momentary impulse to become permanent. We can instruct young people that the kind of reckless drinking that takes place at a fraternity party makes the task or reading others all but impossible. There are clues to making sense of a stranger. But attending to them requires care and attention.
"We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy."
"We have a default to truth: our operating assumption is that the people we are dealing with are honest."
"Default to truth becomes an issue when we are forced to choose between two alternatives, one of which is likely and the other of which is impossible to imagine."
"You believe someone not because you have no doubts about them. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them."
"When we confront a stranger, we have to substitute an idea—a stereotype—for direct experience. And that stereotype is wrong all too often."
The first set of mistakes we make with strangers - the default to truth and the illusion of transparency - has to do with our inability to make sense of the stranger as an individual. But on top of those errors we add another, which pushes our problem with strangers into crisis. We do not understand the importance of the context in which the stranger is operating.
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