Jordan Peterson on solving a problem versus winning an argument

(Thanks to my friend Wayne for turning me on to this video).

Here are my key takeaways…

Start with where are you agree. The video points are a great example of where Jordan Peterson not only agrees with, but actively expands upon a potential adversaries point, and then takes it just a little bit further to counter the argument. This is a technique that practitioners of Aikido know very well. It’s called blending. In layman’s terms, it is often referred to as “using your opponents energy against themselves.” But I don’t think that sentiment addresses the true nature of the behavior. It’s really about starting by becoming “one” with your opponent, as woo-woo as that may sound. In a true blend, there is, for a moment at least, no difference between the attacker and the attacked.

It is best to speak in terms like these: “it seems like… “, which acknowledges the fact that you cannot truly know what the other person is thinking or feeling. You then go about clarifying the other persons point in a way that they would agree with.“ A-men! This is the “talking stick exercise“ that I’ve discussed in other posts. This is Jedi master stuff.

To (eventually, inevitably) address contentious arguments, start by establishing your good intentions. (4:18) The idea is to defuse the connection between the person with whom you’re speaking, and their ideas. We so easily become identified with our ideas. It makes us hold on. It makes us less likely two let go of an idea, because it means we would be letting go of a piece of ourselves.

BTW, if you approach the whole exercise — especially items in the two paragraphs above — with the agenda of learning “tricks” to defeat you opponent, you’re missing the point entirely.

Separate your own ego from the views that you had when you entered the discussion. Recognize that “your“ views are not really “yours,” and make it clear to the person with whom you’re speaking that you understand this is true for them, as well. Non-identification with your opinions is essential! In Aikido, we train ourselves to enter a confrontation without an agenda. It’s really hard, even in a training scenario. Just keep in mind that you are not attacking (or defending yourself from) a person. You are merely taking issue with a particular argument (or technique) — the attack, not the person who delivered the attack. Don’t think or say “The problem I have with your argument.” This addresses the fundamental need for people to be right; or, conversely, the fundamental fear people have of being wrong. It’s not “your” (or “my”) argument. It’s “the” argument. Do not identify with “your perspective.“

7:45 in the video — if you remember nothing else in this post, memorize this 17 seconds.

Wrong in a good way

Yesterday I woke up dreading my upcoming workday. OK, “dreading” is a little strong, but I did have some potentially uncomfortable conversations coming up, and I wasn’t looking forward to them.
I took this as an opportunity to check in about how I felt about this, and perhaps why. I didn’t journal about it (next time I will), but I think I did take with me a good sense for what I was experiencing, so that I could remember it later in the day.
At the end of the day, after all was said and done, I checked in. The day went considerably better than I had hoped. A couple of those difficult conversations were a lot more difficult in my imagination than they were in real life. This seems to happen to me a lot.
So, why do I write about this? I’m trying to train myself to check in on things I am thinking, and what it feels like to be (supposedly) right about those things. Then I want to repeatedly practice checking backwards after the chips have fallen, to absorb what it felt like to be right, when I wasn’t.


My family and I are spending a couple of days at Claytor Lake. We rented a “cabin” (sleeps 16 — long story) and I’m taking a day off work. My wife, daughter, and mother-in-law are joined by my son and his girlfriend, who are visiting us from college.

I thought to myself about a week ago that it might be interesting to blog every day on some experience of being wrong. This morning something happened that made me laugh and shake my head. It was mostly my mother-in-law’s experience, but I unwittingly instigated it.

I mentioned we’re at a cabin. This means we don’t have all our usual kitchen supplies, and some of the usual things are not in the usual containers.

So, Gramma was fixing her coffee, and she asked me where the sugar was. I told her it was in the Illy coffee container. I put it in there because Illy coffee comes in a handy steel container that travels well. She thanked me and went about her business.

After she finished her breakfast, she told me that the sugar she put in her coffee was actually raisins. It was at this point that I realized there were two Illy coffee containers — one of which did, in fact, contain raisins. Neither was labeled.

I asked her why, when she noticed that the “sugar” looked a lot like raisins, she didn’t take notice and re-evaluate. She told me she thought maybe the sugar was in the form of “little clumps of brown sugar.” I thanked her for her complete faith in me, and apologized for my error. But, in my own mind, I thought that perhaps, after 86 years, she could probably have trusted her own judgment enough to know the difference between sugar and raisins.

So, from my perspective, when I told her where the sugar was, I felt like I was right. When I realized her mistake, I realized mine. No biggie.

From her perspective, however, the experience is fascinating. She knew something was “wrong” with the sugar, but her answer to that problem was that the sugar came in a form that looked very different than the white, granulated kind — little clumps of brown. In her mind, it was easier to believe in a form of sugar that she had never before seen in all her life, than to consider that maybe I gave her bad info.

I find that fascinating.


I’ve seldom made decisions easily. It’s part of my nature to ponder all the variables, see things from all angles, and take as much time as possible, before making any decision. Well, almost any decision.

My wife and I were married within nine months of meeting each other. I chose my college major in 15 minutes by scanning a big book of college majors in alphabetical order (I landed on Aerospace Engineering). In my job as a project manager, I make hundreds of decisions every day (and I’m usually exhausted at the end of every day).

So anyway, it’s always comforting to me when I come across an article, podcast, or whatever, that extolls the virtues of re-thinking (and re-re-re-thinking). This is one such article, given to me as a gift by a guy for whom I have a lot of respect, and don’t seem to agree with much. It pleases me that, when he encountered this piece, he thought of me. Thanks, Jeff.

Enemy Mode

Here’s an interesting discussion about how our brain processes our relationships with others.

Things to learn about:

  • Stupid enemy mode (that’s an enemy mode that’s stupid — not a mode involving a stupid enemy) 🙂
  • Intelligent enemy mode — gifted and ungifted
  • Hot anger, cold anger
  • Christian teachings on the matter
  • Where attachment comes in
  • Psychopaths and Sociopaths


I am a big fan of Stephen Dubner and Freakonomics. Recently, I dialed up the Freakonomics podcast, just looking for something to listen to while I sat in the hot tub. I came across an episode about roundabouts. You know, traffic circles? These are not to be confused with “rotaries,“ which are very large traffic circles and not the subject of this post. I’m talking about the smaller ones that are very common in England and other parts of Europe, and, as it turns out, quite common in one particular city in Indiana — but that’s not relevant. Of course, neither was the hot tub comment.

A Roundabout

I don’t know why I chose this particular podcast episode. It’s not a subject that I’m interested in. for any other reason. I guess I was just curious why there might be a Freakonomics podcast on the subject. I went with my instinct, and I’m glad I did. I’m learning that I need to do this more often. My mind was spinning on Understanding On Purpose, I listened to something that I thought was completely unrelated, and my mind made some unexpected connections.

I learned that roundabouts have a lot of advantages over intersections with traffic signals. They have a few disadvantages, but not seemingly enough to justify how uncommon they are in the United States.
For instance…

Traffic Signals vs. Roundabouts

Collisions at traffic signal intersections are four times more deadly (fatal) than collisions at roundabouts. The flip side is there are slightly more fender-benders at roundabouts.

Roundabouts are considerably less expensive to build and maintain, largely due to the surprising amount of engineering that goes into a traffic signal intersection. Traffic signals require some pretty advanced structural dynamics to allow them to withstand weather conditions and errant drivers, and they contain a lot of pretty sophisticated electronics and other hardware just to function. Roundabouts, on the other hand, require none of that — just mainly the same materials and techniques that are used to build roads.

Roundabouts are significantly better for the environment, even regardless of the aforementioned engineering and electronics, because traffic signals inherently require that automobiles spend a lot of time sitting and idling, whereas roundabouts do not.

Traffic signals are designed to be at their most efficient during peak traffic hours: a few hours a day. Roundabouts are however more efficient at moving traffic in the aggregate. The downside to roundabouts, here, is that they can get clogged when traffic is very heavy.

Traffic signals are typically not designed for their aesthetics. Roundabouts tend to have a park-like look about them.

One down-side to roundabouts is that they tend to become impractical in areas where there are a lot of close intersections, like in some parts of cities. They don’t take up more real estate than the average traffic signal that they tend to replace, but they do use more than very small intersections.

Human Factors

But why am I blogging about roundabouts at Understanding On Purpose? It’s because of the differences in the human factors associated with traffic signal intersections versus roundabouts.

Some examples…

Traffic signals work as well as they do because people voluntarily comply with rules (laws).  Roundabouts work because people collaborate.

At a traffic signal, we trust that other drivers will comply, so that we can pay less attention to the other drivers. When the light is red, we wait our turn and watch other drivers drive by (or check our phones). At a roundabout we must pay attention to other drivers in order to get through the intersection.

At a standard traffic signal, traffic inherently opposes other traffic; either running in the completely opposite direction, or completely perpendicular. At a roundabout, people get to their destination by blending with one another.

What’s the point?

If you’ve read this far, you may feel like you’re on a roundabout yourself. What’s my point?

It’s this: Many conversations have the qualities of traffic signals — where people just want to get past each other and get on their way. Better conversations tend to have some of the qualities of roundabouts — where people voluntarily work together to achieve a common goal. And ironically it’s the latter in which we retain a greater degree of personal agency.

I offer this as something to consider, in a roundabout way, the next time you’re in a conversation.

Talking Stick

Many people — perhaps most — have heard about the tradition in some Native American tribes of the talking stick. Most people know the story as this…

Whoever has the talking stick can speak. Everyone else must remain quiet. The stick gets passed around (or back and forth), until everyone has been heard, and everything that needs saying has been said.

The stick can be anything, but it is generally symbolic. It gives the speaker the courage to speak boldly, and reminds them to speak from the heart.

Now here’s the part of the tradition that’s a little harder to find. To me it’s the really important bit., and maybe it’s not all that common, even amongst Native Americans.

The speaker does not relinquish the stick to the next person until he or she feels understood. Toward that end, others can ask a question or two to see if they understand — but they cannot make their own point. They cannot disagree. They cannot even agree.

That is the power of the talking stick.

I’m in a lot of conversations where people disagree — at work, and among friends. Here’s how those conversations so often go:

  • Joe: I think blah blah blah.
  • Jane: I disagree. I think yada yada yada.
  • Me: Wait. Jane — you disagree with what Joe said?
  • Jane: Yes! He thinks boogedy boogedy boogedy.
  • Me: Joe — did you say you thought boogedy boogedy boogedy?
  • Joe: No! I said blah blah blah!
  • Jane: That’s what I said!
  • Joe: No it isn’t!
  • Me: Jane, would you please tell Joe what you think he said?

… and so it goes…

Depending on my role (or, I’ll admit, my agenda) in the conversation, I will often echo back what I thought Joe said, and what Jane said, and lead the discussion to some form of decision. Usually blah blah blah and/or yada yada yada will lead to some sort of decision.

But the decision-making starts with being heard. And you’re not hearing until the person speaking says so. You’re not hearing until the person speaking says so.