Robert Wright on big problems

I was sad to see that Robert Wright is stepping down as a regular writer for the Atlantic – his posts over the past year have been excellent. I’ve always been a fan – Non Zero is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read and probably as much of a manifesto for peer progressives as Future Perfect.

I’ll leave you to read his sign off in full but I liked the section where he outlined three beliefs that underlie his thinking but which he says he rarely articulates directly. The first one in particular caught my eye:

The world’s biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups – i.e. to put themselves in the shoes of “the other.” I’m not talking about empathy in the sense of literally sharing people’s emotions – feeling their pain, etc. I’m just talking about the ability to comprehend and appreciate the perspective of the other. So, for Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America.

The example is a good one but there are plenty of other situations where looking at things from the point of view of other people would help a lot.