mutually exclusive respect

This past few months have shown me, in three different spheres, a common clash. Here's the set-up:
  • Well-meaning people
  • Mutually exclusive ideas
  • Muddled vocabulary
  • Feelings
In the ensuing melee, goodwill is eroded in some cases but genuine communication and bonds also forged.
This is how it gets done, I see.

Mutually exclusive ideas:
  • Everything is okay as long as it is meant well.
  • Some things are not okay no matter how they are meant.
  • Data doesn't matter. Too much is unknowable.
  • Data matters. There are truths to be discerned and myths to be called out.
  • Disagreeing is disrespect.
  • You can disagree with someone's ideas without being against that person.
In these interactions I have, until recently, thought that the path to mutual understanding and progress was to establish common terms and facts. But here are the most important incompatible positions:

I do not rely on data and facts to guide my beliefs.
I do not respect those who ascribe to the above.

Here is my radical new idea. I refuse to reject those who do not seek out or are unmoved by empiricism. My prejudice against that point of view has been cold and hard-bitten. It also doesn't work. People are not their ideas - wrong or right. People are people. If I want people to accept my ideas I first have to get their attention as a person. That's a challenge. I'm still working on it.


  1. In the eating disorders world, it is futile to try to change the beliefs of people who have already formed their beliefs. The hope for the future lies in influencing how people who come along after us -- sufferers, families, researchers, clincians -- form their beliefs in the first place.

  2. what about the "my data is better than his data" arguments - those really frustrate me because I am not qualified to sift through the data or the arguments built round it. Complex stuff but people can be charming and kind and sociable even if they don't share the same ideas at all.

  3. As Marcella says, even among those who say they rely on data there may be conflicting facts. And it's pretty much the human condition for folks to find (or manipulate) facts to fit their beliefs rather than the other way around. Ad man David Ogilvy put it well when he said that people are likely to use research the way a drunk uses a lamppost - for support rather than for illumination.

    So, Laura you are in illustrious and time-honored company in taking up other ways to reach people. And as always, thank you for everything you do!

  4. All reasonable theories need to be built upon data of some sort. However, there are different types of data, e.g. 'hard' neuroscience data from fMRI vs. qualitative data derived from people's voices. Non evidence-based ideas are not always futile, because an evidence base first needs to be established.

    But it IS futile when people fall out over something which involves the health of individuals. Some theories are difficult to prove, and time-and-time-again arguments arise because some researchers or practitioners are very protective of their research and/or their ideas.

    In terms of AN: I doubt there will ever be an effective one-size-fits-all therapeutic strategy because I think it is likely (based upon research evidence) that people with AN do not form a homogeneous group. Rather, I think there are sub-groups that vary in accordance with what might be described as co-morbidities. Weight gain is mandatory, or course, but how that is achieved and maintained may vary from person to person.

  5. Hi Laura,

    Of course, we should be polite and respectful to everyone, but . . . (you knew that was coming) I am mad. Yep, mad. My daughter has seen no less than seven "therapists" over the last two and a half years who have all been ineffective and frequently made things significantly worse. Examples include telling my daughter that parents cause eating disorders, it's all about control, you must have been sexually abused but can't remember, etc. These well meaning and nice people were paid to do a job and were not effective, were harmful, and wasted precious, precious time while my daughter became thinner and thinner and more entrenched with the ED. Perhaps later I can be more forgiving, but for now I have no patience for practicing therapists using outdated theories that are harmful. It should be stopped now period.


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