My morning newsfeed consists of selected story types from selected publications. I then listen to one of my chosen radio stations in my car on my way to work and, if I don’t like what they’re saying, I have the option to switch to a prerecorded podcast on the topic (and perspective) of my choosing. If I decide I want more information about a breaking story, I can select the channel or website I visit to learn more, giving priority to those that align with my view. On Facebook and Twitter, I can elect to block messages from people whose perspective varies too much from my own or to simply select friends with common viewpoints.
The current media environment is in many ways wonderful. You no longer need a journalism degree or a famous last name to have your voice heard. The interactive nature allows for dialog and discussion instead of a one-way torrent of information. And the broad nature of information gathering prevents only one perspective from being gathered.
However, there is a downside to modern media. Because we have so much choice, we tend to choose voices that agree with what we have already decided to be true. And although it feels good to be validated, there is true value in listening to those you disagree with.
We develop empathy not from occupying on our shoes, but from trying on the shoes of others. When you essentially hear your own story being told time and time again, you fail to see things from another perspective. To try on another viewpoint. It’s easy to say something or somebody is “wrong” when viewed from a distant and macro perspective, but once a human face and story has been associated with it, you begin to feel more empathy for their situation, even if you still do not agree.
We develop our own ethics and beliefs not in isolation, but by considering all sides of a thing. It’s easy to conclude that a cube is green if you only view one side. Yet, once you see all sides and their hues, you then have to provide a convincing argument if you want to claim that the cube is green. Listening to opposition takes courage; you find your own ideas threatened. Yet, whatever conclusion you reach will be better and more solid for the discourse.
Listening to one side promotes “us vs them” thinking along arbitrary lines. It’s natural to classify something unfamiliar as a threat; we have evolved to see danger in strangeness. However, when we limit our surrounding only to what is comfortable, we risk viewing people as “them” when the reality is that they are really on the same side of a bigger issue, just maybe seeing it a different way. When we invite them to talk and we open ourselves to listen, we often discover similarities and realize that it’s more, “us vs something else.”
Minds are like a muscle, if we don’t use them, they become weak and inflexible. Listening to something you agree with does not challenge your brain whereas, trying to process and assimilate new information asks your brain to step it up. Look at it as the difference between practicing addition and learning to perform calculus. It’s easier to stay closed, but more rewarding to do the work to create an opening and questioning mind.
When you engage respectfully with people you disagree with, you learn to regulate your emotional response. I’m all for sensitivity, but I’m also for personal responsibility. It’s your job to learn to hear things you may find offensive or short-sighted and keep your emotional response in check. I’m not saying you can’t disagree, but I’m also saying you can’t expect others to tiptoe around your beliefs.
Listening to other viewpoints keeps your ego in check. You’re not right about everything. Nobody is. Yet if you live in an echo chamber of beliefs, you can start to believe that your perspective is somehow the “right” one and the other people are simply idiots for feeling the way they do. Be brave enough to question and even revise your own conclusions.
When you listen to people who disagree with you, you begin to develop an appreciation for our differences and you gain tolerance for those who have different beliefs. Even though I don’t understand how some people think, I’m glad we don’t all think the same. The world and our place in it is much richer for our differences.
My challenge for you today – listen to one station or podcast, watch one show or read one article that comes from a perspective different than your own. Rather than approach from a mindset of proving yourself right, undertake the exercise with a curious mind – “What can I learn today by listening to somebody who doesn’t agree with me?”