An Open Letter: The Vlogbrothers
Good evening Hank and John,
I could easily think of a dozen different reasons to write either of you, all of which would be in the spirit of gratitude. Your combined works have helped me build a better relationship with my younger sister, to appreciate more different art forms, and to view my life and actions in a greater context (no biggie). But what I want to thank you for specifically here is for helping me to imagine people more complexly.
I've been following your work for a while now, and this idea has been at least underlying throughout, but it was when I saw the video Hank posted regarding the re-branding of your company that finally closed the loop on this idea and what it meant to me, which is good, because it's looking increasingly like this is going to be a critical skill to develop in the years ahead.
When I watched this video (and re-watched the video in which I'm pretty sure this is first mentioned, and then John's TEDx presentation; kinda got sucked into a black hole, but I digress) it brought a few memories and ideas that had been sitting on the backburner in my mind that I couldn't quite make enough sense of to articulate.
I remember in my college science classes, it was repeatedly demonstrated to me nothing, nothing, is as simple as it seems. There was never a simple answer to the question as to why something is the way it is, and if one seemed to exist, then I was probably asking the wrong questions.
I thought of why I enjoy gaming and the conclusion I reached was that they allowed a reprieve from the sometimes frightening complexity of the real world where I could hone my decision making, observing, planning, and problem solving skills in a relatively low stakes setting.
More recently, I've thought about how the factors that shape peoples views, prejudices, and actions are way more complex than I deluded myself into believing. That, to quote Robert A. Heinlein, "Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal".
In the last few weeks I've endeavored to imagine people more complexly and to let this inform how I converse, both off, and more so on-line. Simply disengaging others with a different view or opinion or interpretation of the facts that doesn't match mine, often with mockery, smugness, and often dismissal is a mistake I endeavor not to continue making.
I try and use curiosity as my guiding star (where have I heard this before?). If I fundamentally disagree with someone on a point, instead of simply clamming up or encouraging them to do so, I get curious about why they think differently. What have they seen or done that I haven't experienced that informs their viewpoint?
At the very least, this gives me greater insight into what informed someone's decision, giving me the tools to see someone more complexly and even work through misinformation and misunderstanding (because isn't that what we all want, to cut through bullshit?).
Sometimes even, one or both of us will come up short when trying to unpack a stance or opinion and that sparks exploration into what led us down that path and if it's worth continuing to follow.
Not everyone is willing to engage in this manner. Some can become defensive, even hostile. What I remind myself of in these instances is that they do not necessarily owe me an explanation and above all, they are not my enemy. The enemy is the misunderstanding between us. One or both of us are victims of it and whether or not we both realize, we're on the same team.
Thank you both for helping me to imagine people and the world we live in, more complexly.
DBTBA, best wishes, and thanks for listening,
PS: In the first CC World History series, was younger John and current John's disdain for him supposed to represent how even if we don't like or are somewhat embarrassed by our history, we still have to acknowledge its existence, or am I imagining this more complexly than you intended?