Knowing vs. Thinking

January 7, 2022

When listening to podcasts, I’ve noticed that sometimes the host or a guest will start their presentation with the phrase, “Research shows that . . .” Why start with these words?  It seems as if  the reporting of research findings allows the reporter to avoid the risk of being criticized. Supposedly the research presents an absolute truth that nobody can challenge. Are they afraid to think..?

 In a conversation I once had with a professor, I told him that, in my judgment, we, the Jewish people, try to hide our Jewishness. We have been accused of so many wrongdoings and for so long that we subconsciously feel that we must be guilty of something. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we are a bad people and, because of that, it’s better to hide who we are.

  For instance, I do not like to be called a Jew in the same way that an African American does not like to be called a Negro. The word “Jew” has a negative connotation for me. It makes me cringe. I say, “I’m Jewish.” but never “I’m a Jew.”

  The professor I was speaking with disagreed with me. He said: “Research shows that sixty percent of Jewish people are proud of being Jewish.  What you are saying is not substantiated by research.”

  Here we go. That was my cue to bow my head in shame and hide under a desk somewhere, right?

The results that research studies (particularly behavioral surveys) produce depend on the questions asked, and how they are asked. If a surveyor was to ask me if I am proud to be Jewish, I would absolutely say yes. I’m proud that although we are only 15 million people worldwide—equivalent to the population of just one major city like Los Angeles—we have contributed more Nobel prize winners per capita than any other nationality. We have contributed to the arts and to political movements. We are leaders. We are only 0.2% of the global population, and yet we are the most noticed nationality and social group in the world.

 I’m proud to be Jewish.

 If a surveyor was to ask me: “Would you volunteer to tell people that you are a Jew?” my answer would be different.

 Behavioral science surveys must be looked at with a critical eye. They can be highly biased based upon what somebody wants to prove. We should all challenge research findings based on our own experiences. We should not fear to say what we think.  THINK. Be vulnerable. I willingly say what I think and open myself up to criticism because when I’m criticized, it forces me to sharpen my thinking and improve my point or I lose the argument. And whether I win or lose I still benefit, because if I learn something knew it advances me to the next stage of my knowledge.

 At the Adizes Institute, for instance, I assess the value of the people who work with me by how many times they convince me that I’m wrong. You should want to work with people who are better than you—it will entice you to make less mistakes, and you will learn more. Surround yourself with thinking brains and not just right-hand men or women or book-quoting worms.

 I recently got an email from a former client who is a very good friend. He told me that every Saturday he reads my blog. Some of them, he said, he agrees with. Those that he disagrees with make him think. This was my most gratifying email of the week. I don’t write a blog to convince anyone that I know better. I am not reporting research findings. I write what I am thinking. And I’m not always convinced that what I’m thinking is right. So welcome to the club if you disagree with me. Often when I read my blogs a year or two later, I myself disagree with what I was thinking when I wrote them.

 Have we stopped thinking? Everybody is into knowing and learning to know, but not necessarily daring to think.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes