Why You Think You’re Right—Even If You’re Wrong

This is the provocative title of a TED talk given by Julia Galef. Here’s the premise:

Perspective is everything, especially when it comes to examining your beliefs. Are you a soldier, prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs—or a scout, spurred by curiosity? Julia Galef examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information. When your steadfast opinions are tested, Galef asks: “What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?”

Galef doesn’t address whether we have these identities from birth, but I think we do. I’ve always been a scout. In retrospect I realize that’s why I left Catholicism after high school when I began studying the Bible on my own. The map I’d grown up with didn’t seem to fit this new body of information, so I changed maps.

Forty years later I left my working life as an Evangelical teacher and pastor because I found that map didn’t fit the facts as closely as I once thought. Both shifts cost me, and I’m still not done trying to understand and adapt to the real world. I don’t expect to find the perfect map; I just want a more accurate view of reality.


Galef points out that the soldier mindset is rooted in emotions like defensiveness and tribalism. The scout mindset is rooted in curiosity. Scouts are,

… more likely to feel pleasure when they learn new information … more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations … more likely to say they think it’s virtuous to test their own beliefs … And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth isn’t tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic.

An army needs both soldiers and scouts, but they serve different purposes and have different perspectives. A scout is an observer who tries to stay unobserved. He collects information others can use. A soldier wants his/her presence known and felt, sometimes with lethal force.

A scout sees the world through field glasses.

A soldier sees the world through a rifle scope.



3 thoughts on “Why You Think You’re Right—Even If You’re Wrong

  1. Fascinating thoughts on beliefs. It probably isn’t possible, but I think I am a combination of both. Does that mean I am wishy-washy? Hope you are feeling much better today!

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