The atomic letter #16: Finding the “Thick Desires”🪺

Sharing truths and multiple perspectives gently in social settings and… with yourself

Dear Seeker,

Spring is almost here and Winter is fading away. I've been living in Singapore for a while now and even though I don't get to experience the changing of seasons first hand, I still feel a sense of wonder and longing for these reminders of how time has slipped past us.

As the frost makes way for the blossoms, even the most stubborn among us can't help but come out of hibernation. Speaking of coming out of hiding, I finally have an update for you, albeit two months overdue. But hey, Elon Musk is still trying to fix Twitter and Andrew Tate is still in prison, so my newsletter update is still relevant.

Last year, on a very nondescript weeknight, after dinner at my aunt’s place, my seventeen year old cousin retorted in jest when I quizzed him about his support for Andrew Tate. He said, "Because he speaks the truth! He has been censored on mainstream social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter. They are not allowing him to speak his mind and share his truth."

At first, I was worried because all I had heard about Tate was that he promotes misogynistic views. But instead of shutting down my cousin's beliefs, I decided to explore the matter further. We watched a few of Tate's interviews and discovered that the situation was not as simple as it appeared in mainstream media.

He was showing off cues of masculinity and strength, which is attractive to many young men who may not have role models in their lives. His situation of being "cancelled" by the mainstream media only adds to their distrust in the media's narratives.

After watching his interviews and gathering different perspectives, I can see why he is popular among a certain group of young men. He fills a role-model void in their lives and his narrative aligns with their growing doubts about the "mainstream."

Is he the kind of the role model that we want for the youths? Probably not. Should he be cancelled? Absolutely not. It’s important to teach the youths on how to cross-reference, analyse, and not believe in one singular source.

What bothers me the most is not his promotion of masculinity, but how he has shaped success into a narrow definition. If features like "Community Notes" on Twitter challenge this, wouldn't it make for a greater learning opportunity for everyone?

This experience, all thanks to the influence of the wonderful Gen Z, has made me more cautious about what I read in the news. As a child, I used to trust Western publishers as the bringers of truth, but now I’ve become more sceptical, even more so after having spent five years in China.

Elon Musk is seen by many as a madman for his attempts to change Twitter, but I support his intentions of creating a space where different perspectives can be shared and people are not just fed one version of the story. For example, the new "Community Notes" feature on Twitter that provides additional context to tweets can help us verify the information we read and think more critically. There are good stuff amid that chaos! I’ve gone to Twitter myself instead of just absorbing the headlines blindly.

In a podcast I recently listened to, one of the hosts discussed "activist journalism." He claimed that a new generation of journalists became activists after Trump became president and that they were no longer interested in taking a neutral stance and letting the facts speak for themselves.

I publicly called out an article from the New York Times that I believed was an example of activist journalism on my Instagram story and received mixed responses.

Response #1:

“I have lost all respect of news outlets in North America. And you wonder why people are more divided than ever over this side of the pond when all you consume are these types of articles.”

Response #2:

“Haven’t seen the distinction between the two in a while. Hate it. The world feels dumber ngl. It’s a really complex topic to unwrap. First off, English as the lingua Franca is problematic, obviously giving the West a leg up. Then there’s the geography as well. Where these news outlets sit, what the social tone in these regions are. And of course, the owners, who they’re funding and what they’re lobbying for.”

Response #3:

“I read that extract to be saying that democractic actions and impulses are coming ground up from seemingly unexpected places — eg ukraine and China. Which I find is a POV that can be substantiated. I didn’t find it controversial in the same way as you though I might be unconsciously biased. The NYT is excellent journalism. but I do agree on the pomposity of their tone. It can be really grating sometimes. And that concession given — I would also say that I appreciate the mess and foibles of democracy over controlled and autocratic efficiency. How else would we engage in discussion, discourse and dissent?”

I was initially hesitant about sharing my opinion, but I'm glad I did. It sparked a conversation and allowed me to see different perspectives on the matter. And learn. I was thankful for Response 2 as it added a lot more nuances to my impulsive rant.

Could it be that we might have an evolutionary impulse to simplify and create binary arguments, where one is either on Side A or Side B? To resist this impulse and improve communication, Adam Grant suggests that we can make arguments more literate by exploring different dimensions and perspectives.

In social settings, I sometimes struggle with bringing up truths or other perspectives without offending others. For example, a colleague shared a TikTok video about an alleged statement by a former Twitter employee who had been laid off, but I didn't want to come across as too aggressive in questioning the validity of the video. With as much courage I could muster, I said vaguely, “It could be a parody by a comedian,” then I quickly changed the subject. I knew for sure the video was a joke. Just a few hours ago, I saw a similar tweet and verified it with different sources.

During a drinks session, a co-worker scoffed at Elon's businesses not making money. I didn't want to embarrass him by correcting him. Another co-worker and I tried to raise alternative views, like “Oh really? We thought Tesla has been doing well,” but my co-worker’s (over)confidence silenced our note of doubt. Then I wanted to reach out for my phone that was lying screen down and search for the financial report right away but it was a social setting… Does it matter who is right or wrong?

So, how do we bring up different perspectives in a way that encourages us to rethink our views without embarrassing others? This is something that I've been pondering lately, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

If I had a chance to rewind time and be in that conversation again with my co-worker, what should I have done?

Bringing up Different Perspectives: Encouraging Rethinking Without Embarrassing

As we navigate through our daily lives and engage in conversations, it's common to encounter differing perspectives and beliefs. However, introducing new ideas and challenging someone's existing viewpoints can be tricky. How can we encourage others to rethink their views without coming across as a know-it-all or being passive-aggressive?

Here are some suggestions to help us bring up different perspectives in a way that is respectful and constructive:

-Reflect upon your own biases: Before you speak or act, take a moment to examine your own beliefs, values, and motivations. This will help you to understand your own agenda and approach the conversation with empathy and objectivity.

-Listen deeply: Show the person you are speaking with that you are truly interested in their perspective by actively listening. This means putting aside distractions, paying attention to non-verbal cues, and asking clarifying questions.

-Use open-ended questions: Encourage the person to examine their beliefs and behaviors by asking open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking "Do you agree with this?" try asking "What do you think about this?"

-Acknowledge complexity: Recognize that the information we encounter in our lives is often complex and full of conflicting viewpoints. Acknowledge this complexity, and use it to serve up a dose of new perspectives that might be missing between the extremes.

-Empower them to think critically: Help the person feel empowered to critically examine their beliefs and behaviors, and resist the sense of pressure or feeling that someone else is controlling their decisions.

-Motivational Interviewing: This is a therapeutic approach that helps people explore and resolve ambivalence about change by evoking their own intrinsic motivation. By using this technique, you can help the person to see things from a different angle and find their own solutions to the problem.

-Share your own experiences: If there is a particular idea or perspective that you would like to share, try sharing your own experiences and insights. For example, "I read that Tesla is one of the most profitable automakers. I will probably look into this more."

-Verification of information: Encourage the person to verify information from trusted sources. For example, "Is this something we can find out and verify from their financial reports too?"

-Trust their abilities and intentions: Trust the person's abilities and good intentions, and avoid coming across as patronizing or condescending.

-Present it as a challenge: Finally, present the introduction of new perspectives as a challenge rather than a threat. For example, "Here are a few things that have helped me. How do you think any of them might work for you?"

Contrary to popular belief, “presenting an issue with both sides of the story doesn’t make people rethink their stance, instead they will have the tendency to double down on it and stick to their guns”. A co-worker once told me that we need to have a ‘closing’ and ‘opening’ just like a lawyer does in court in presentations. I guess that has its benefits and its own time to be adopted especially in the advertising industry where we jostle to get the strongest argument across — but if we notice our clients hesitating and being on the other side of the fence, should that still be our approach?

“If our presentation reads more like a scientist or an anthropologist's field notes, rather than a lawyer's opening statement, it can help to find the people who might have views on extreme spectrums find some areas of agreements,” Adam Grant suggested.

A beautiful provocation that I’d love to put into practice.

Reflecting this onto our personal journeys, could the outer forces and the shifting circumstances sometimes yield us to take a side or choice too quickly and thoughtlessly?

“Is this what you want or what others want for you?” a cutting remark from a friend which I recall from time to time.

How difficult it is to pull these apart sometimes?

This is a personal recurring theme which has become even more pervasive this year.

"The true inner self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from indistinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent,” said Thomas Merton.

In the same vein, another quote from Luke Burgis says, "Thick desires are like diamonds that have been formed deep beneath the surface, nearer to the core of the Earth. Thick desires are protected from the volatility of changing circumstances in our lives. Thin desires, on the other hand, are highly mimetic, contagious, and often shallow."

May we all find the willpower to uncover the “thick desires” found in our deepest core.

Here’s a poem for you, my friend, and perhaps the way for us to uncover the “thick desires” is to be still, and be open to what the Universe shows us — as tree-hugging and hippy as this may sound. :)


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner



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