Nipun's Feed

Quick Updates on the Go :) [ Newsletters | Subscribe ]

Devil's Advocate Or Angel's Advocate

[I recently hosted a couple interviews. Following one, a friend wrote to me about how one of the guests might be two-faced.]

While that has not my experience with this particular person, I do know ample people who I judge similarly -- whether they get seduced by greater power or money or fame.

Over the years, though, I've asked myself if projecting my beliefs of perfection onto others is commensurate with holding my own self up to those standards. What I've seen within me is that I judge others by their actions, but I judge myself by my intentions. I wonder how things might change if I find some parity in that judgement gap?

If I judge myself by my actions, I realize that I'm also quite imperfect -- and then would I expect that from others? If I was leading thousands of people in an organization, is it ever possible to do something that everyone judges to be a win-win? That's hard to do even within two people sometimes. :) Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, if I judge others by their intentions, that also dramatically softens my gaze. Even if I strongly oppose the action, prioritizing the other person's intention increases my capacity for offering benefit of doubt.

You mentioned the show titled "Devil's Advocate" -- that pinning people down, intellectually, about their contradictions could be a good way to open them. Personally, I wonder about the efficacy of that route, given my experience with myself. My sense is that Angel's Advocate might be much more potent, for both the receiver and giver. :)

Many years ago, I met a leader (who then went on to become one of the most powerful heads of state in the world). In our 30 minute chat, I asked him questions like what he does to hear voices outside of yes-men around him. At one point, he abruptly walked out of our conversation. He wanted to influence me, and I wanted to influence him -- and the net result was neither happened.

Sure, if one wants to build a following of cheap followers, holding strong positions and becoming a convincing lawyer for those positions is very adept. But what does that solve? Would anyone even want such a friend? I wouldn't. Surely, I like the idea of critical thought through candid dialogue, but if there isn't a larger field of friendship and trust, it just breeds hostility and polarity -- as is obvious around the world today. If we are to counteract those divides with bridge-building, "Angel's Advocates" feels lot more skilful. In the previous generation, where content was a premium, we marveled at people who were smart, brought up intellectual counter-points, and offered thought leadership. But in today's world of information overload, it's just noise.

More subtly, one of my activist friends asked a monk once, "I have all these good ideas, but no one listens to me." And the monk said, "That's because you're taking a short-cut. You first need to make them your brother/sister, by giving." That's a tricky response, :) because as we walk the path of fraternity, our connection to "good ideas" ends up being radically transformed.

That monk's path is hard and slow, but that's what Gandhi stood for. Ambedkar would frame Gandhi's approach as "tyranny of incrementalism" -- that if you wait for inner transformation in the other person (or a group), they'll keep on doing damage and paving the "road to hell with good intentions".

But that begs many questions. For instance ...

  • what is our relationship to time? I recently read physicist Carlo Rovelli's book on time (see this video, and this article for a synopsis) who essentially says that there's no objective truth to time; it doesn't exist in nature.
  • what is our relationship to scale? We are ingrained with the notion that 10 people suffering is 10x worse than 1 person suffering -- and its converse, that bigger the project, greater the good. Yet, could that just a covert way for our ego to stay relevant?
  • what is our relationship to thought itself? During the pandemic, Guri and I often read the Gita, with our morning chai :) -- and, like so many other sacred texts, it is so explicitly stated that we are not our thoughts and in fact, beware of your thoughts since they are prone to being by hijacked our sensory stimulus.
So, to build on Gandhi's example -- how was he experiencing time, and the spectrum of emergency to emergence? How was he holding the opportunity cost analysis for scale (see a thoughtful analysis of Trusteeship)? And even more broadly, was thought even the primary intelligence (given that he could shut off all thought) that guided his actions? It's a question I often ask myself: what do I know to be true that I haven't thought of?

How do we hold all those evolving metrics in drafting up our momentary theories of change? And then, how do we design solutions on that wisdom? If we want the winds of nature to behind our back, should we bias towards Angel's Advocates or Devil's Advocates? From my experiences thus far, I'm sensing the long arc of the universe bends towards angels. :)

<< Previous | Posted Oct 11, 2021 | Next >>


Projects I'm Involved With

"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."