A guy looking skeptically to the reader
(featured image: Johnny Worthington CC BY)

I don’t care what you think

How we think matters more than what we think and who we are

Koen Smets
6 min readOct 2, 2020

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From the moment we’re born, to understand the world, we rely on the judgement of others. Our parents, our siblings, our friends, our teachers, our colleagues, our boss, our political leaders, the media, social media, and so on — they all help us figure out how things hang together. There are two main reasons for this: others know facts we don’t know, and they may also be better than we are at transforming those facts into a judgement.

But not everyone’s judgement is equally reliable. Their own factual knowledge may be inaccurate, or their competence in interpreting the facts may be imperfect. We learn to understand this, and we learn to trust (and indeed to mistrust) some people more than others. But on what basis do we form those insights?

Who can we trust?

It is hard to directly establish the quality of someone’s judgement. Who they are often influences how we rate what they say.

If we know something about a person, we may use this information to evaluate how much we should trust their judgement. If that has proved reliable in the past, then perhaps we can trust them here too. But it is not because someone’s advice on how to get rid of moss in our lawn turned out spot on (they are a keen gardener), that their viewpoint on migration or climate change is reliable too. It is not because someone is an eminent epidemiologist that their judgement on whether or not schools should be open during a raging pandemic is particularly dependable. Deep epidemiological insight is necessary, but not sufficient to make that call.

A mechanic with crossed arms, looking into the camera
“Nope, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a brain tumour.” (image: Aaron Norcott via Unsplash)

We may also take other people’s identity into account when evaluating their trustworthiness. And that is not necessarily a bad thing to do: it is quite reasonable to consider a judgement that our persistent headaches are not caused by a brain tumour as more reliable if it comes from a neurologist, than if it comes from our car mechanic, or from a random bloke in the pub. But a popular singer or a celebrated actor is not necessarily more qualified than we are to…

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Koen Smets

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius