Lesson 3.4

Increasing Owed (General) Respect

Dive into this topic by watching the video, then continue to the key concepts below.


Key Concepts:


We’re not always going to be able to personally interact with the individuals behind the viewpoints we encounter.

  • So while it’s great to use the tactics we learned in the last lesson—such as learning each other’s stories, or playing together—what about when we come across viewpoints that we don’t understand, presented by people we don’t know?

  • Ideally, we ought to be able to explore ideas that don’t jive with our own so that we can determine whether we need to change our minds. But we can’t even dig into the validity of a viewpoint if we don’t have basic owed respect in the first place.

Building owed respect—i.e. expanding your in-group to include more of humanity—boils down to training your brain to see other people as part of your family, and therefore just as valid as you are.

  • In the same way that a big family like mine (I’m the first of seven kids!) with lots of different viewpoints can sit down for Thanksgiving and be nice, a person who develops a broad in-group can sit down and listen and treat other people’s viewpoints more easily than others.

  • This translates to more possibilities for creativity (considering broader arrays of ideas increases our chances of coming up with new solutions to problems) and more productive collaborations.

The best way to build this kind of owed respect is to reinforce the idea in our brains that there can be more than one “right” way to do something. IH research indicates that there are three relatively straightforward ways to do this:

1. Live Abroad

Psychologists have found that people who have lived in other countries are more likely to be creative—which means that their brains are more open to considering ideas that are outside of the expected.

The Dream Teams Intellectual Humility Study found that living in lots of different countries or states (enough that you’ve likely had to truly immerse yourself in cultures outside of your own) or living in another country for at least 3 months (enough to have to actually slot into the other country’s way of living and not just Vacation Mode), correlated with a boost in Respect For Viewpoints.

2. Read and Watch Fiction

Another surprise from the Dream Teams IH study is that people who read a fictional book every month (or more) tend to score higher on Respect For Viewpoints. And even watching a little bit of fiction television has a small, but real effect as well.

Knowing the neuroscience of storytelling makes the likely reason for this obvious, because what is fiction, if not stories of people who aren’t like us? Those stories unlock empathy (hello oxytocin!) and reinforce the idea that other people can have valid lives and ideas even if they’re not like us.

A series of studies published in 2014 by a group of Italian psychologists found that reading Harry Potter significantly reduced people’s prejudices. High school and university students who read the books were more likely to have respect for people in their out-groups—in particular immigrants and refugees—than average.

Curiously, our IH study didn’t find any correlation between reading news and Respect For Viewpoints. News is good for being informed, but not for building respect, it would appear. However, reading nonfiction books is correlated with higher IH. We’ll get into why in a few lessons from now.

3. Learn Languages

Brain scans show that multilingual people have physically different brains than people who speak just one language. And these studies show that multilingual people’s brains generally gain an advantage in problem solving and focus. People who can speak more languages generally gain the capacity to look at things from more angles, studies show, and they tend to have a higher chance of being more creative.

While there’s not much research directly studying the links between multilingualism and IH yet, any easy hypothesis to make based on these observations is that the more your brain can reinforce the idea that there’s more than one “right” way to speak, the better our ability to consider that there might be more than one valid way to think about other ideas, too. In other words, it’s not a stretch to say that having multiple languages in your head builds your respect for other viewpoints.


Two Ways to Build Respect in the Field:


AT WORK: If you work in an office type environment, get permission to “embed” with another team for a week or two.

  • The more far away from your team/expertise the better!

  • Sit with this other group and ambiently take in how they work, while you do your work. You’ll understand more about what they’re up against from sitting with them for several days.

  • Ask to be a fly on the wall in this team’s meetings, so you can understand what their concerns are, what their culture is like.

  • Ask people curious questions, and refrain from making suggestions or passing judgment unless asked to.

  • You’ll be surprised how people see this as a nice gesture, and also how your perspective will change.

  • You’ll not only generate more earned respect for this group in particular, the more time you spend with them, but you’ll also develop your owed respect abilities!

AT HOME: Video has been shown to elicit the largest oxytocin response in people of any storytelling medium. So if you can’t break away and live abroad any time soon, try virtually “traveling” to a few favorite respect-building “places” of ours on the screen:

  • Watch the travel series Parts Unknown, with Anthony Bourdain. (Research shows us that food is one of the great bridge-builders between cultures—and travling with the late, great Bourdain is a ton of fun!)

  • Watch the series Dirty Jobs, with Mike Rowe. (Putting yourself in the shoes of people who do a very different job than you is a great way to build that owed respect muscle.)

  • Watch the Harry Potter movies (research seriously shows that people who get into Harry Potter become more respectful of minoritized groups!)