Review: James O’Brien, How not to be wrong

Many will know of James O’Brien from his national 10am to 1pm weekday radio show on LBC. To borrow one of his phrases, “depending on which football shirt you are wearing” you’ll probably either think of him as a champion of progressive politics or a patronising woke lefty. 

But look back to when LBC was a London-only show and before then as editor of the Daily Mail’s Gossip Column, and you will see O’Brien’s politics have evolved over time and been hard won. 

That’s really what this book is about; the journey from espousing views that just seem to enter your head on any given subject, to discussing views that come from a better place. I’m reluctant to describe what that better place might be because part of O’Brien’s insight is that it really isn’t a fixed place. His current audience might be surprised to hear his older views on diverse subjects; from stop-and-search and corporal punishment to tattoos and obesity. 

The subtitle of the book is ‘the art of changing your mind’ and O’Brien has changed his mind on a wide number of subjects. He has successfully identified what caused him to be wrong in the first place and he’s even proposed a method to help him, and anyone else who also cares about not being wrong, to change their minds too.

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His narrative is at times painfully honest. He uses transcripts of several calls from his LBC show to reveal how wrong he was on certain subjects He also includes personal letters he wrote to ex-teachers to help deliver his points.

This openness and honesty is refreshing in a world where many of our political leaders and media commentators would rather remain horribly wrong on a policy or belief. The book naturally invites the reader to question and challenge their own views; to understand what is behind that automatic quip or derogatory comment. I would have liked a longer book with more examples of wrongly-formed views and their causes but ultimately it is up to the individual to do their own legwork. 

Whilst reading I was reminded a little of the ‘auditing’ sessions used by Scientologists to excise the ‘engrams’ from their lives and eventually reach a ‘clear’ status.  However, this self-improvement process has no quasi-religious philosophy behind it. The method is to understand and get behind the issue, and then to simply re-educate yourself if you are wrong. It should be used on any anger management, empathy building or emotional intelligence course.

If you really take the time to understand and be open to what makes you say and do the things you do, then this book could really change your life. In our current political climate this book has never been more needed. To live in a less divisive world we are going to have to become better at understanding ourselves and others.  We must learn how to change our minds.

James O’Brien’s book ‘How to be right in a world gone wrong‘ is available from all good bookshops. Buying from an independent store or through supports local book sellers. 

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