The Believing Game [...]

The Believing Game is a thought exercise developed by Peter Elbow. He sees it as a necessary balance to the Doubting Game practiced in western culture under the name critical thinking.

Critical thinking asks one find flaws in thinking that looks right. The Believing Game asks for virtues in thinking that looks wrong. Elbow believed these two modes to be complimentary:

The doubting game represents the kind of thinking most widely honored and taught in our culture. It’s sometimes called “critical thinking.” It’s the disciplined practice of trying to be as skeptical and analytic as possible with every idea we encounter. By trying hard to doubt ideas, we can discover hidden contradictions, bad reasoning, or other weaknesses in them–especially in the case of ideas that seem true or attractive. We are using doubting as a tool in order to scrutinize and test.

In contrast, the believing game is the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming or accepting as possible to every idea we encounter: not just listening to views different from our own and holding back from arguing with them; not just trying to restate them without bias; but actually trying to believe them. We are using believing as a tool to scrutinize and test. But instead of scrutinizing fashionable or widely accepted ideas for hidden flaws, the believing game asks us to scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues.

Often we cannot see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till we work at believing it. When an idea goes against current assumptions and beliefs–or if it seems alien, dangerous, or poorly
formulated—we often cannot see any merit in it.*

A lot of people think we’ll get empathy and understanding through trying to express our feelings and beliefs more fully. But why would we? Expression pushes us deeper into our value and belief system, not out of it.

Wikity forgoes the usual blog-as-expression route and asks its users to host the ideas of others, finding useful connections between them and their own writing. Writing expresses the author, but is produced as a lens that others might be invited to look through, not a missle aimed at enemies.

Perhaps this, and not relentless self-expression, is how we bridge the gap between us?


The Believing Game has some relation to methods of free association, which attempt to temporarily disable the critical faculty to find hidden connections. See Harnessing the Potential of Memory in Writing

James Flynn discusses how “Taking the Hypothetical Seriously” makes us more empathetic. See Flynn Effect