What mindset do you have?

By Jihan Haji, Intern

Imagine you are soldier in an army. What do you think is expected of you? What do you expect? I would assume that you have a strong desire to win your war and that you would go to any lengths to achieve that. Now imagine that you are a scout in this same army and ask yourself the same questions.  You would be in charge of going out into the battle field prior to combat identifying any potential obstacles or features that could be used to get a one up on your enemies. Your job is to understand and think rationally and have the most accurate information while that of the soldier would be to fight tooth and nail to win the war. Both are essential in an army and in war.

Let’s take a look at an event in history which will better help us understand this analogy.

In 19th century France, the trial and conviction of Albert Dreyfus became the most tense political drama in French history.  Albert Dreyfus was a French-Jewish captain in the French army. In 1894 it was discovered that someone in the French army was selling military secrets to the Germans.  At the time anti-Semitism was rampant and Dreyfus became an immediate suspect.

The torn up letter found in a dust bin was used to convict Dreyfus- it was said to have his handwriting, though modern handwriting experts don’t seem to agree.  They searched his apartment for any sign of espionage but came up with nothing. This meant that Dreyfus was hiding something. Further investigation was done on Dreyfus where his school teachers were interviewed. It was discovered that he learnt foreign languages in school, which of course meant he had a desire to conspire with foreign governments later in life (hint: notice the sarcasm). His teachers also said that Dreyfus had a good memory, which is essential when one is a spy. With such incriminating evidence (more sarcasm) Dreyfus was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on 22nd December 1894. He was taken to the town square, his uniform ritualistically ripped and his sword broken in half in what was called the Degradation of Dreyfus.

So why were the officers so convinced that Dreyfus was guilty?

One would think they were intentionally framing him but historians think otherwise.  On the contrary, they (the historians) think that the officers genuinely thought that their case against Dreyfus was strong. What does this say about the human mind? This is a case of what scientists call Motivated Reasoning.  This is a phenomena in which our unconscious motivations shape the way we interpret information. It happens in a way that some facts and information feel like our allies and we want them to win so we defend them, while others feel like our enemies.

A perfect example is in sport when your favourite team is playing and the referee makes a foul call on your team, you are quick to jump up and complain and point out how biased the ref is, but when the foul is on the other team you will take the referee at his/her word and won’t look further into the situation. Our judgment is strongly influenced by which side you want to win. This reasoning can also be called the Soldier Mindset.

Back to Dreyfus- we left him locked up for life. He still insisted on his innocence by frequently writing letters to the French army which was convinced he was guilty. A man by the name Colonel Georges Picquart, a high ranking officer in the French army believed, like most, that Dreyfus was guilty as he was also casually anti-Semitic.

It got to a point where Colonel Picquart began to suspect that maybe Dreyfus wasn’t guilty. He discovered evidence that the spying for Germany had continued, even after Dreyfus was imprisoned. He also discovered that another officer had the same handwriting as that of the discovered torn letter, a much closer fit than Dreyfus’s handwriting. He brought this information to his superiors even after his colleagues discouraged him. To his disappointment, they either did not care or come up with ways to justify what was happening.  They said that the only thing Picquart had managed to prove is that there was another spy who learned to duplicate Dreyfus’ handwriting and continue to spy for Germany even after Dreyfus’ imprisonment. Eventually Picquart got Dreyfus exonerated but it took him 10 years, time in which he was also imprisoned for disloyalty to the army.

What makes this story relevant is that even though Colonel Picquart was anti-Semitic, which gave enough reasons and prejudices against Dreyfus, he went beyond and above that and still managed to look for the truth and see Dreyfus’ innocence. This is what can be referred to as Scout Mindset.  This is the drive to not make one idea win or lose but to see what is really there, even when it is not convenient or pleasant.

Both Soldier and Scout mindsets are rooted in one’s emotions.  Soldier mindset may be affected by loyalty to a certain group while Scout mindset is more curious for facts and is open minded to situations. Those with the Scout mindset are intrigued when they find out something that is contrary to their beliefs. They are also grounded, in that their self-worth as a person is not tied to how right or wrong they are about a certain topic.  These traits are what researchers have found to constitute or predict good judgment. These traits are not in any way related to how smart one is or their I.Q. On the contrary it has to do with one’s E.Q. (emotional quotient) or emotional intelligence. This means that your mindset is governed by your emotions and how you feel.

To improve our judgment as human beings, we do not need direction on logic or rhetoric or economics, we need to change the way we feel. We need Scout Mindset. We need to learn to feel proud rather than ashamed when you find out you are wrong about something. We need to learn to be intrigued rather than defensive when we encounter information that contradicts our beliefs.

The question I want to leave you with is; What mindset do you have? Do you have the mindset of a Soldier or that of a Scout?

This article is based on TED talk by Julia Galef : Why you think you’re right….. even if you are wrong. https://www.ted.com/talks/julia_galef_why_you_think_you_re_right_even_if_you_re_wrong?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread

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