Trying to Understand Instead of Trying to be Right

“Echo chamber.”

It’s a word that has been reverberating around social media more often in recent years, and especially in light of the (fairly) recent US elections.

“a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition”

 

“official sources often go unquestioned and different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.”

[Wikipedia “Echo chamber (media)”

When it is used, it feels akin to an accusation, conjuring up the image of a cave full of bats who don’t know what else there is to the world outside. That there is even a world beyond the chamber. It kinda feels like being called ignorant and people don’t like that. I don’t like that. It’s not a good feeling.

The uncomfortable feeling of being accused of living in an echo chamber is not dissimilar to the reasons why we end up surrounded by only our own opinions in the first place. Defensiveness is a reaction that causes us to retreat into ourselves, or in this case, into our little groups of same opinions, where we feel safe and comfortable. And sometimes, that’s okay.

Sometimes, we don’t want to be “on” all the time, sorting through facts, opinions, and biases. We need that safe place where we don’t have to justify our feelings to others or feel like we have to defend our values tirelessly. Educating others is not an obligation and those who demand it are not helping anyone, really. We all need a break sometimes.

However, when we do venture out into the world and encounter people of different opinions, it would do well to remember that,

“I don’t have to be right all the time.” 

Maybe “different opinions” is too weak of a term to adequately describe the tensions that we are increasingly encountering in our daily lives. And I’m not even claiming to be an authority on what is “the objective truth.”

But I do know that when I argue with someone, it is usually like talking to a wall because we’re both trying to convince the other of our own version of “the objective truth.” Yet who is to say that my version is more true or right than the other person’s version?

I think that in times like these, when every conversation feels like thrashing against an immovable wall, it is important to remind ourselves that it would be more productive to try to UNDERSTAND someone else’s point of view, their values, their upbringing, and why they’ve come to believe in something like that – rather than trying to wonder at how you can convince them otherwise.

Why do we talk about echo chambers like it’s a bad thing? Because it implies that we stopped talking to each other because it made us feel uncomfortable to disagree. It calls out our egos on an inability to admit when we might be wrong. It redefines conversations as what they actually are – a competition for who can yell the loudest instead of a dialogue for understanding our fellow human beings.

It’s a problem. I have it too.

So the next time I enter into a conversation to with someone who disagrees with me, I’m going to try to remember these 5 things:

  1. How can I better understand this person’s point of view?
  2. It’s okay to admit that I was wrong.
  3. It’s okay to disagree.
  4. A debate doesn’t have to be an argument.
  5. What would Daryl Davis do?*

* Daryl Davis is a black musician who befriended members of the Ku Klux Klan in America. His story is a much more compelling testament to the challenge of engaging in dialogue with people who disagree with you.