Season 2 Episode 4

Hello, this is Sean. Welcome to season two episode four of Ethos English, the podcast for advanced English learners and the people who teach them. If you want to build your vocabulary, refine your study strategies and improve your critical thinking keep listening – you’re in the right place. At you’ll find the show notes with extra resources, including a text version of the episode with links to the resources I mentioned. By going to my site you’ll be able to sign up for my monthly newsletter to receive free study materials.  

Speaking of which, this week I’ll be sending out the November newsletter with the Quizlet Flash card set for the first four episodes of this season. Remember that vocabulary review will improve your retention, that is, how much you retain – or remember – by 100%. So don’t pass up this opportunity. What’s more, by following me on Instagram at Ethos English With Sean you’ll see my daily posts and can interact with me to practise using the vocabulary you’ve learned.  

Now let’s get on with the show.  

I thought that this week I would start with a reading recommendation that’s a bit different. It’s a column from the Guardian newspaper. It’s called Blind Date and as the title suggests, it’s about people who do not know each other, they’re complete strangers who are set up on a date and you read about from each person’s perspective how the date went, did they get along? Did they like each other? Was there any chemistry? What kind of food did they order? Did their date have good or bad table manners? Did they get drunk? Did they kiss? Did they exchange phone numbers? It’s a really entertaining column and I’m mentioning it because I often talk about highbrow things on the podcast, that is intellectual topics, and I just want to remind you I also have a sense of humour. I also am a human being. I’m not always looking at intellectual things.  

Blind Date is a fantastic column if you want to read something and have a good chuckle, a good laugh about something that’s not too serious and what’s great about it too is that it’s very representative in the sense that the people who are set up on dates they’re of different ages, different generations. You have people of the opposite sex, so men and women, you have two men […] You have lesbians being set up on dates. […] I think maybe people are nonbinary. I’m not sure I think so. It’s a really very cool column. I really recommend checking it out and a very quirky, entertaining column.  

The Guardian has come up with a new column that’s kind of similar, maybe a bit more highbrow, a bit less titillating, less entertaining, more serious, and it’s called Dining Across the Divide, and I’ll put the links for both of these columns in the show notes, and the idea is to bring together two people – it’s not a date in the sense it’s not romantic, it’s just for these people to get to know each other. So the idea is to bring together two people to discuss their personal beliefs on different issues over dinner, hence the name Dining Across the Divide. And usually they choose people who are at different ends of the political spectrum.  

So for instance, they might bring together a communists and a diehard capitalist. They’ve got also people, anarchists, people in the political centre, and people from all different walks of life, that is, people with different social backgrounds and professions. So for example, some of the participants in the past have included an accountant, a retired teacher, a diplomat, a nurse. Some are native born Brits while others are immigrants. And the idea of the column is for these people to find common ground. This is a common expression in English. When you find common ground with someone, the idea is that you are discovering shared interests, beliefs or opinions with a person who would typically disagree with you on most other subjects.  

So here’s the headline of one of these from this column – it’s a bit sensationalistic. “She’s a Labour supporter. He’s politically aligned with Boris Johnson. Can they find common ground on trans rights and tax?” So you can say they’ve included here two hot button issues, trans rights and tax hot button issues are subjects that are important to people and about which they have strong opinions. These are very controversial issues. And I had to look at some of the other examples from this column and some of the subjects that come up are Donald Trump, the climate crisis pandemic lockdown measures, trans rights as I mentioned, Brexit – of course it’s a British newspaper – and also getting rid of the British royal family. Oh – gasp – yes.  

This column is really clever because it’s not quite highbrow, they keep it quite um, how would I put it? It’s quite casual, it’s just people talking about discussions with people they wouldn’t normally associate with in everyday life, and it’s very, it’s done in a very humorous, lighthearted way and I think it’s basically just to get people to to remind people. Or get people to ask themselves whether you are able to or willing to change your mind about things and to show how maybe we are actually more reluctant to change our mind than we like to think. We’re often or trying to convince other people that they’re wrong about things, but we’re often reluctant to do so with our own beliefs. We’re often reluctant to call into question our own beliefs, and I find this column really – how would I put it just? A very creative, fun way of illustrating this with actual cases of people who would normally not really associate with each other and see what conclusions they reach after spending an evening together  

And this reminded me of discussions I’ve been having with my students in one of my courses – I recently brought up a hot button topic here in Barcelona, namely, the mayor of Barcelona, whose name is Ada Colau and. I say that […] it’s a hot button topic because she’s a highly polarising figure. That is, she’s someone who people either love or hate, and I would say nowadays it seems like more people hate her than love her. At least in Barcelona I’m I think I’m one of the only people who thinks she doesn’t, she’s done anything right. 

So she’s brought in some unpopular measures among some people, I don’t disagree with them necessarily, but she’s become unpopular for a couple of reasons. Part one of them is because she’s vastly increased, or rather reduced free street parking. So there’s just less, there are fewer parking spots for drivers, and those that are remaining are – you have to pay for them. She’s banned polluting cars from the city centre and she’s introduced an extensive bicycle lane network, which means there’s less room for cars.  

And I went into this debate absolutely certain that Ada Colau was a saint. I’m exaggerating a bit, obviously, but I realised as I was discussing this with my students, that even though they didn’t completely convince me that I was wrong, I did realise that I was reluctant to change my own views and that I had maybe had the wrong attitude going into this debate with my students because I wanted them to be open to questioning their perspective, but I wasn’t really open to questioning mine.  

And then I came across a video on YouTube the other day from the New York Times about politics in the US and how people left wingers – that that would include me people who are on the left left wing of the political spectrum. This idea that actually the enemy isn’t necessarily the other side, and I think a lot of us fall into this trap of blaming the other side in politics or even in family disputes. There’s a lot of this in human societies, so the name of the video is “Liberal hypocrisy is fuelling inequality.” If you fuel something, you contribute to something. You make it happen more. Liberal hypocrisy, liberals meaning people on the left wing, so in the US that means Democrats, so liberal hypocrisy is fueling inequality, It’s contributing to inequality and this video is really interesting even if you don’t care about American politics. It’s more what we call a cautionary tale, that is a story of an event that is used to warn people. To warn people about the dangers of hypocrisy and they give two really interesting examples.  

They say that the usual narrative about politics in the US is that you have Republicans and Democrats and they can’t come to an agreement about anything and republicans block all progressive legislation and they say wait, what about those states where Democrats are in control of the legislatures where they have the freedom to pass laws that are progressive and so they look at the documents – the document I think is from 2020 – in which the Democratic Party sets out its values very explicitly and they compare the values of the party with how it is legislating in states where it has power.  

So places like Washington state. Seattle is in Washington, that’s where Microsoft is based in in Amazon. Think of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Well Washington state of all the states in the US has the state with the most regressive tax system that means that proportionately, the poor pay the highest proportion of their income in tax to the state compared to the rich. Shocking, right? We assume that only Republican states have regressive tax systems, so tax systems which do not, which do not treat the poor fairly. And there are a couple other states controlled by the Democrats which are in the top ten of the most regressive tax systems in the US and then they get the other example of California and other blue state other Democrat state where so-called liberals who claim to support important left wing causes like affordable housing, these so-called liberals will actually fight these measures when politicians in their own towns try to bring in measures to build public housing in their neighbourhoods. So they say, yes, we support the Democrats. We support public housing, just not in our backyard.  

And so ostensibly they’re in favour of progressive measures, but in reality they aren’t. When these measures are proposed, they’re put forward in their own communities. They don’t support them. A lot of food for thought how? Come maybe we should stop looking to the other side of the political spectrum and scrutinise, that is examine, people on our side, let’s say more carefully, and this got me thinking about a very interesting concept which is called a cognitive bias.  

Here’s a definition taken from the website “A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make.” In other words, we could say that cognitive biases are predictable limits or failures in the way we think about the world. And what’s more, there are distinct categories of cognitive bias that is, different ways in which we consistently misunderstand the world.  

If you remember two weeks ago in episode two, I was talking about the importance of categorising things, noticing categories in making sense of the world. I talked about that in the context of language learning and how if we notice different types of chunk, different categories of vocabulary, we’re more likely to notice them and then learn them in the same way. Today I want to talk about cognitive biases as different categories of mistakes in our thinking.  

Today’s category of cognitive bias is something that’s called belief perseverance. And here is part of the Wikipedia entry on belief perseverance. “Belief perseverance, also known as conceptual conservatism, is maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it. Such beliefs may even be strengthened when others attempt to present evidence debunking them a phenomenon known as the backfire effect.” End of quote.  

So again, I’ll include the link to this in the show notes. And this idea of, how if you’re trying to convince someone of a position, that actually in trying to convince them you can make them more convinced of their belief rather than less so. And so I was thinking about me and my students, and how in my attempt to change their mind I was actually potentially making them even more certain of their beliefs.  

And if you want to, I would highly recommend you check out. There’s a website called  and there you’ll find all the main categories of cognitive biases and examples of them are very entertaining examples or humorous examples. So this idea of belief perseverance is connected to the backfire effect so our beliefs may actually become even more, may become even stronger when we are presented with evidence that disprove these beliefs, which is counter-intuitive. It’s the opposite of what we’d expect.  

And so the idea is that when we’re trying to convince people of our own opinions, and this has the counter-intuitive impact, the effect of making them believe their own position even more strongly. Well, that means that we should really rethink how we approach controversial issues. My advice,my reflection this week is that – it’s rather counterintuitive advice. It’s a word I just used a minute ago. If something is counterintuitive, it’s the opposite of what you would tend to do if you followed your intuition and what seems obvious.  

So my counterintuitive advice is, when you’re talking to someone who holds diametrically opposed beliefs, that is, someone who believes the opposite of what you do. Why not try being the first one? To highlight the. Weaknesses of your side of the argument. Now I don’t suggest you do this in. A manipulative way. Just be honest about the shortcomings of your position. Now I know today’s been a hodgepodge, a mixture of different ideas, I’m just going to let it sit with you.  

I hope you found this interesting. I want to thank you for your attention today and now I’m going to go over the vocabulary 

Highbrow: A highbrow book or film. Is one which is very serious and may be difficult to understand if we describe a person as highbrow, we mean that they’re interested in serious or complicated ideas and subjects.  

If we say that people are at different ends of the political spectrum, we mean by political spectrum that we’re referring to the range of different political beliefs you can hold. Which is often divided into right wing versus left wing, conservative versus liberal and. If we say that people are at different ends of the political spectrum we mean that people were talking about people of extremely different or opposing political beliefs.  

Earlier I talked about a diehard capitalist, someone who is unwilling to question their support of capitalism. If we describe someone as a diehard, something it could be a diehard capitalist or diehard romantic. A diehard fan. We mean that they are unwilling or they are unwilling to change or give up their ideas or ways of behaving even when there are good reasons to do so. When we talk about people from all walks of life we mean that there are people from different backgrounds, different origins, especially when we’re talking about the kind of work they do as in the example.  

“Far too many politicians come from a handful of fields like law and business. In an ideal world. They would come from all walks of life.” 

Find common ground with someone. Discover shared interests, beliefs or opinions with another person or group of people who would typically disagree with you on most other subjects.  

A hot button issue is a subject that is important to people and about which they have strong opinions.  

If you’re reluctant to do something you’re not willing or happy to do something and therefore slow to do it.  

Bring something up. Start talking about something. Mention something.  

A person who’s a highly polarising figure is someone who people either love or hate.  

A cautionary tale is a story of an event that is used to warn people, as in the example, “Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about the dangers of science.”  

So-called as in the example, so-called liberals, used to describe someone or something that has been given a name that you think is wrong. So in this case, a so-called liberal is someone who is considered a liberal but does not behave like one.  

Ostensibly, if something is ostensibly true, people say that it is true, but it is not really true. For instance: “He has spent the past three months in Florida, ostensibly for medical treatment, but in actual fact to avoid prosecution.”  

cognitive bias: Here it’s again the definition from VeryWellMind. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make. Here’s an example. Negativity bias is a very common type of cognitive bias. It refers to the fact that people are much more likely to remember and focus on negative events than positive ones.  

Counterintuitive, something that is counterintuitive does not happen in the way you would expect it to.  

“Steering a sailboat is counter intuitive. You push the tiller the opposite way to the way you want to go.” 

hold diametrically opposed beliefs (formal) believe the opposite of what someone else believes.  

Now that’s it for this week. Thanks for listening. Remember, you can access daily content by following me on Instagram at Ethos English with Sean. And if you want the monthly Quizlet set – and why on Earth wouldn’t you? – sign up to my newsletter at and click on this episode.

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