≡ Menu

Note the How not the Why to temper radical thought

tree with a split branchTHE ALLIANCE

In Wharton professor Adam Grant’s new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, there’s a chapter about creating and maintaining coalitions. Grant demonstrates how some movements over the last couple of centuries in American History have imploded due to the lack of containing their most radical members. Grant reports on the huge rift the Womens Suffrage Movement suffered when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton splintered off from pioneer Lucy Stone over Anthony’s extreme idea that black men shouldn’t be granted voting rights before women. Anthony’s subsequent partnering with a wealthy racist of the time threw Stone into moral shock. The movement almost didn’t survive the split.

Grant suggests all coalitions must keep strong hold of the reins on their extremists, or else such splintering will occur. One way to do this, Grant says, is to get the extremists to spell out not why they believe what they believe, but how they would implement what they believe, in concrete terms. From Originals:

“Shifting the focus from why to how can help people become less radical. In a series of experiments, when people with extreme political views were asked to explain the reasons behind their policy preferences, they stick to their guns. Explaining why gave them a chance to affirm their convictions. But when asked to explain how their preferred policies work, they became more moderate. Considering how led them to confront the gaps in their knowledge and realize that some of their extreme views were impractical.”

THE FEDERATION (i.e. Facebook groups)

Recently a local newspaper reported on the splitting up of a Collingswood, NJ Facebook community group. A mass exodus happened when a member posted that the African-American door-to-door solicitors in town were former isquare in san fran gets huge crack in pavement stones from earthquakencarcerated criminals. Grammar corrections and petty statements bred large fights, and a mass exodus occurred, including the original owner of the group.

What’s an admin to do? What’s another member to do?  The owner of the group was loath to ban a person who obviously was oblivious to the racism in his statement, but incendiary incidents are what fuel destructive fires.

THE PRIME DIRECTIVE (for online discourse)

Although it is difficult to suss out a person’s policy preferences from radical references, perhaps we can implement a “How, not Why” approach to online discourse. Here are some statement scrips that may help:

  • I see you mentioned ________. Do you mean that you’d prefer if they did ____________ instead of ___________?
  • What would that look like?
  • How would you write legislation for that?
  • How would that work out in every day life?

When anyone is put into a leadership role, they pause. Thinking of constructing actual local, state or federal laws might cause a person to take that very reasonable breath before they type. Practicality questions require more thought than spewing belief systems. We all need reminders to pause before we type, and this “How, Not Why” approach is a good one to keep in mind.


Next post I’ll try to write about my adventures in applying “How, Not Why” to weight loss, novel writing and other life goals.



Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (affiliate link, not that these ever work but I have to tell you that)

Philly Voice article on Collingswood, NJ Facebook groups breakups


Havertownies article (by me) relating our own community group to the Collingswood situation

Ripped Trunk by Danie Ware on Flickr
San Francisco rift by Scott Beale on Flickr