Last week I gave a short presentation and then engaged in conversation with about 10 young men at the SigEp fraternity at Northwestern University. Their thoughtful and intelligent questions made the experience richly rewarding for me, because I learned from their inquiries and comments even as I shared my own knowledge.
Among other things, several of them suggested that I look up and watch Jordan Peterson being interviewed by Cathy Newman on BBC television. That interview has indeed gone viral with over 4 million views, in large part because Newman consistently—and antagonistically—misrepresented Peterson’s views.
The best analysis I have seen so far is by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. I recommend reading his essay. I have also tuned in to commentary by many others, available in print and on YouTube, and found several astute assessments.
As Conor Friedersdorf says so well, and I paraphrase: The effects of the interviewer’s approach are harmful because anyone who watches and accepts the interviewer’s characterizations will believe that Peterson holds views that are simply not true. Friedersdorf adds that we need to get better at accurately characterizing the views of folks with differing opinions. Amen to that!
Although Cathy Newman spoke of wanting to understand Peterson better, she gave no evidence of it. It appeared that she entered the TV studio with fixed ideas, and that her intent was not to enlighten her audience about Peterson’s views, but rather, to inform them of her own.
To truly understand the views of others, intelligently, we must explore and understand not only the ideas themselves, but also the framing and context in which those views sit. That means being willing to unlock ourselves from our own framing. We may still disagree, but a more holistic understanding of the other expands our own worldview, and it may even make space for common ground.