As much as I enjoy these kinds of books that are filled with pop psychology, explanations on research done with a twist in the thinking and potential advice on how to be different, I am also wary of them. Nowadays it’s almost too easy to take a bit of research or a point of research and make it fit into your already made conclusion. My wariness however while reading this book lowered with each chapter.
“The wisest one in the room” by Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross, written by two psychologists with decades of experience and research between them, brought an empathetic understanding on how complicated life is and how if we want to be the wisest one in the room, it takes question after question, and a change in perspective after a change in perspective. Basically, when you think you’ve looked at something from every angle, look again.
The book is divided into two parts; the first one deep dives into how we humans get things wrong (or right) often when we think we’re being objective or when we think we have all the ‘facts’. It even brought a completely different view to the famous study done by Milgram’s experimental procedure to study obedience where participants “obediently” gave electrical shocks to other participants even though they expressed pain. Bring in the notion of fundamental attribution error and woah, humans are way more complicated than we think:
“We commit that error [Fundamental attribution error] whenever we overestimate the extent to which people’s actions, especially their successes and failures and their displays of apparent virtue or vice, are reflections of the kind of people they are – and underestimate the extent to which they are the product of situational influences.” Basically one action doesn’t make the person. We judge too much, too quick, too unconsciously. Even when we believe we’re being objective, the only way to be wise is to know that we have our subjectivity, to know that something we’ve read or some factor has influenced us in some small way.
Enjoy absorbing everything in the first half. The second half attempts to provide guidance and advise on how to take all these human complications into your life. While the first half is similar to other books that provide research to back up the theories presented, the second half is where the experience of the psychologists can be really felt and where there’s a clear emphasis on accepting that life isn’t as simple as we want…even when all attempts are made to make it simple.
Read this book. All of it. It’s a fun, enjoyable book that gets the brain wired and thoughts flowing and if you’re open enough to know that all humans are flawed, including ourselves, the level of compassion to others increases. Even research is not perfect; even individuals we put on pedestals are flawed; nothing is perfect but that shouldn’t stop us from gaining wisdom. It should encourage us even more.