The Steel Standard: Lessons from a 4-Year Old

conflict Jan 26, 2021

What can we all learn from a four-year old?

I once had the pleasure of riding 90 minutes in the car with my little buddy William. He'd turned four the week prior and wasn't afraid to tell you about it.

But there was something William loved to do more than telling, and showing, his age. He loved asking questions. At first, it seemed normal. Then it was cute. Then it was a bit annoying. Then it was driving me batshit crazy.

How could this kid have so many questions? Everything I say receives the same response ... why? It some point, I began asking myself the same question. Unwilling to meet defeat at the hands of a toddler, I resorted to the wildcard that every adult has in their pocket ... just because.

Okay Mike, that's a nice story, but what's the point?

Suppose you see a negative post on social media about a politician that you dislike. What is your immediate reaction? In a perfect world, you'd analyze the information to test. Does this make sense? Is this source credible? If so, what does this tell me?

In the actual world, you simply say, "I knew it," and then forward the post to anyone who will listen.

This is where William can help us. We should ask ... why?

I know what you're thinking. Mike, I don't have to ask why, I already know why.

But do you?

Here's a little technique that you can use to test your theory. Ask yourself this ... Why did this politician do XYZ, was it because of their lack of character or competence? Most likely, this is where you're going to land. That politician is a jerk, or an idiot, and that's why they did what they did.

But what if there's another explanation? What if they did what they did because they care about something in a different way than you?

It always comes down to one of those three things: Character, Competence, or Caring. The first two are easy for our brains to process and the third one takes a lot of work. Guess which path we tend to favor?

I'll take two-letter words for $800 Alex.

Challenge yourself to take the hard path. Challenge yourself to understand how this person cares differently than you do. But it's not enough to name the difference. As William would tell us, we need to ask ... why the difference?

My conversation with William ended when my addled adult-brain overheated. Either that, or we reached our destination and I fled from the car like a wet cat. I can't remember.

In real life, when will you know you've gone deep enough with the why-question? Is there a gold-standard?  No, there's a steel-standard.

Steelmanning is the technique of arguing your opponent's position. It's arguing it so well your opponent agrees with you 100%. You want them to say, "I couldn't have said it better myself."

When you can steelman your opponents argument, you have a decent chance of understanding what they care about.

Before you hit forward, or share, or like, ask yourself if you've achieved the steel-standard.

Then thank William.


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