We are seldom presented with information that violates our worldview, and when we are, we usually dismiss it quickly, believing it is wrong--or worse.
But if we open up and "active listen" to it, we may actually find kernels of truth that allow us to alter our own worldviews and begin to diminish the deep polarization that is tearing societies apart.
People have always tended to associate with others like themselves. But this tendency is being accentuated now with social media, where people "friend" or "follow" people and organizations that think just like themselves, so they are constantly being bombarded with information that confirms everything that they already believe. We are seldom presented with information that violates our worldview, and when we are, we usually dismiss it quickly, believing it is wrong--or worse.
The result is quick and deep polarization between cultural groups. Liberals have no knowledge or understanding of the beliefs of conservatives--they just "know" they are "backward," "naive," "misguided," and sometimes "hateful." Conservatives also have no knowledge or understanding of liberal beliefs, seeing them as "destructive,"misguided," and "hateful" as well. And now, increasingly we are seeing such breaks within each political party. The "Alt-Right" in the United Sates is just as dismissive and distrustful of moderate Republicans, so are the far left Democrats dismissive and distrustful of moderate liberals. Where is this disconnect going to take us? Nowhere good!
The alternative is for everyone on all sides to actually be willing to considering the possibility that some of their beliefs, parts of their unquestioned world view, might actually be wrong. Instead of immediately dismissing information that challenges your own world view--open up to it. Put yourself in situations were your assumptions are likely to be challenged. And then listen to the best arguments the other side has to offer before you conclude you are right and they are wrong.
Now I have a caveat here. When I was teaching an undergraduate conflict skills class, I often asked my students to watch (on TV) or listen (on radio) to someone "on the other side" for at least an hour and then write an essay about what they heard or saw, in the most accepting way possible. I was trying to get them to essentially use "active listening" skills in the context of mass media--trying to get them to listen empathically and with openness to the other side. And I, on occasion, do this myself as well. The last time I did it was right before Hurricane Irma, which, for those who don't remember, was threatening to be an extremely destructive Hurricane, lining up to directly hit Florida. I tuned into an unnamed talk show host, only to hear him say "don't worry about hurricanes, folks! They aren't really all that bad--they're just being hyped by the liberal media." Uh-yea. It's really hard to empathize with that. If the hurricane had been as bad as expected and people followed his ideas, many more people would have died. Where was he possibly coming from? I really don't know!
So don't start with the most extreme examples of "the other side." Start with the moderates. Hear them out before you dismiss their ideas as naive and simply wrong. If you find some aspects of their argument sensible, then adjust your own to accommodate those ideas. And listen/watch a little bit more. Maybe even reach out and talk to some people "on the other side." Try to understand WHY they feel the way they do. What assumptions are they making? What are their life experiences that influence their beliefs? Try to put yourself in their shoes--might you feel the way they do if your circumstances were like theirs? Try to help them hear you out too, by explaining how you see things in a respectful way, without "you messages" or put downs. Talk about your own experiences that brought you to where you are today.
If lots of people do this, we will start to diminish our deep polarization, and may even "take the wind out of the sails" of the really far out commentators who wreak so much damage with their pens and their microphones.
HD9: Being Wrong: Have you ever changed your mind about your views in a conflict, deciding your opponent was at least partially right? What made you change your mind? What did you do about it? (Answer below in an email and we will post your answer here!)