The uncharitable mindset says: “If members of your group do something that I don’t like, and you don’t condemn that action unreservedly, then you are bad, in much the same way as if you had done the thing I don’t like.”

Example 1:

Some social justice believers cancel-mob on shaky evidence, which turns out to be inaccurate.

Many social justice believers don’t condemn such people unreservedly (because their focus is on primary harms of discrimination, rather than overreaction harms).

Uncharitable people then lump many social justice believers in the “pro-low evidence cancel mob” group.

In reality, such people are often also anti-low evidence cancel mob, but simply place a lower priority that problem compared to other problems.

Example 2:

Some conservative people often slight or demean people of color, women, or other negatively stereotyped groups.

Many conservatives don’t condemn such people unreservedly (because their focus is on assigning blame primarily based on intent, not harm).

Uncharitable people then lump many conservatives in the “pro-discriminatory slights and indignities” group.

In reality, many such people are also anti-discriminatory slights and indignities, but have different priorities and different systems of blame and accountability.

Being charitable

The charitable mindset instead says: most people believe many of the same things are good and many of the same things are bad. But different people have different priorities and preferred methods to achieve goals. If someone agrees on what is good and bad, but disagrees on how important it is, or how to get there, that’s still fundamentally a point of agreement. Search for those points of agreement, and build upon them.

Example 1:

A: “Low-evidence cancel mobs are a big problem.”

B: “They’re not great, certainly. But I wouldn’t want to try too hard to stop them, because high-evidence cancel movements are important.”

A: “I wonder if we can distinguish the kind of cancel movements that typically arise around deserving or underserving targets, and only promote the former. After all, it hurts the legitimacy of high-evidence cancel movements if they’re mixed in with the low evidence kind.”

B: “That would be exciting, if we could do that!”

Example 2:

A: “People who say things like ‘you’re pretty smart for a girl’ make women feel unwelcome and offended.”

B: “That speaker is trying to give a complement. I don’t think they’ve done anything too bad.”

A: “Promoting the stereotype that women are rarely smart is a problem, even if it came in the context of an attempted complement.”

B: “I certainly don’t agree with that stereotype. But people express such stereotypes every now and then, what are you going to do?”

A: “I think people should try to realize when they are expressing negative stereotypes, and try to conciously overwrite them. If it’s hard to notice, it can be helpful to have it pointed out, perhaps by a third party.”

B: “That sounds reasonable. Helping people towards more positive views sounds good.”

I believe that the charitable mindset:

  • Is more likely to produce positive outcomes, by finding common ground.
  • Is more accurate, in that one’s mental model of the other person more often reflects their true beliefs.
  • Encourages a more diverse community. In a diverse community, it is common to have conversations along these lines. The charitable mindset helps steer these conversations in positive directions, rather than acrimonious disputes that might make someone leave a community.