Soldier vs Scout Mindset

Soldier vs Scout Mindset

Do we ever think about what motivates us in our search for truth?

Recently I read a book which had some interesting insights on how we draw conclusions, and just how biased we are.

Julia Galef believes that most people protect their opinions, beliefs and ideologies like soldiers… something to be protected from invaders.  He must hold on to our beliefs and ensure no new information enters it’s territory…

We do this for a number of reasons – many of which are very logical.  When we are in soldier mindset we might be protecting:

  • Comfort – by avoiding unpleasant emotions or truths
  • Self esteem and self-image – by holding on to our image of ourselves, and how we want to be seen by others
  • Morale – because sometimes we need lies to motivate ourselves to do hard things
  • Image – making ourselves look good
  • Our capacity to belong and fit in

Galef suggests we underestimate the value of the truth. And we underestimate how willing we are to deceive ourselves, for the reasons above and more.

She espouses that instead we try to adopt what she calls a Scout Mindset. Scouts like to get a complete picture, they like an overview of the terrain.  The Scout Mindset encourages us to ignore bias, pre-conceived ideas, convenient truths and behaviours that may block clear information.  She espouses true curiosity and a real desire to expose ourselves to ideas and experiences outside of our own and the constant updating of our ideas.  You can get a little taster of her wisdom here:

The TED Talk discusses the Dreyfus affair which is one if the initial examples in the book to show just how easy it is to deceive ourselves – but the book has many many more of these and many tools to help us test our conclusions. Galef encourages us to not only realise that the truth is not in conflict with our goals, but that there is a freedom in questioning, being curious (one of our core values) and discarding inconvenient truths

The best thing is, you can learn to be a scout – practicing the tools develops the mindset. Here are some of the most relatable and adoptable tips of the book:

  • Tell other people when you realise they are right
  • Consider how you react to personal criticism (even Galef says she is bad at this) and search out good critics who have something worthwhile to say
  • Try to prove yourself wrong
  • Take precautions to avoid fooling yourself (try tests like the double standard test, outsider test, conformity test, selective skeptic test, the status quo bias test)
  • Notice your biases
  • Lean into and learn to enjoy confusion and puzzling things out

Most of all, she suggests with great empathy that we start to call making a mistake “updating” instead of getting it wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with constantly updating!  And how reassuring is this?


Photo by Francis Seura from Pexels

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