NARKISSOS (or Narcissus) was a young man, a son of the river-god Kephisos and the fountain-nymph Liriope. He was celebrated for his beauty and attracted many admirers but, in his arrogance, spurned them all. One rejected admirer became distraught, and called on the goddess Nemesis to avenge him. His prayer was answered when Narkissos fell in love with his reflection in a pool, gazing endlessly at himself and slowly pining away until he was transformed by the nymphs into a narcissus flower — a symbol of beauty, but also of warning.

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We increasingly live in a “selfie” culture. Our Instagram feeds are pictures of ourselves, the food we’re eating, the fabulous life we’re living, and the fabulous friends we have (often with us at the center of the circle). We collect followers on Facebook, we think of ourselves as a “brand,” and advertisers want to leverage our Twitter feeds. Our status updates become an opportunity to declare our opinions to hundreds — if not thousands — of people, most of whom will likely agree with us, puff us up, and make us feel validated.

Technology is an amazing thing. But as with everything, there’s a dark side as well. Is it possible, in all of this shouting and putting our image out there, that we are actually missing a core component of what makes us human?

Maybe you’ve heard the old phrase, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” This is a reminder that we are created to listen as well as speak. But in a self-obsessed culture, could it be that we’re so focused on what we want to say that we have lost the ability to listen — and particularly to listen to those with whom we might disagree?

“The biggest communication problem is: we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

– Unknown

This is true not just in terms of social media. News broadcasters have also found ratings by compartmentalizing their audience according to worldviews. Whether it’s Fox News or MSNBC, it’s become increasingly difficult for audiences to seek out a broad understanding of the truth. Most would prefer to simply watch the network or news anchor who can reinforce their pre-established worldviews or prejudices. Thus, whether you are conservative or liberal, you are right and everyone else is wrong … according to a preselected information base that excludes anyone with whom you disagree.

In reflecting on the unhealthy ways in which our culture increasingly communicates, there are three questions we should ponder:

1. Are we willing to be challenged by other perspectives?
Take a look at your daily newsfeed. Have you configured your Facebook page or grouped your headlines where you only receive information from one news source or from a small circle of like-minded friends? If so, perhaps you should consider exploring another perspective. Challenge yourself by exploring sources of information that may be radically different from yours, and resist the urge to throw up your hands in angry cynicism at the opinion-makers who you may too easily write off. Is there some truth that can broaden your understanding?

2. Are we able to respect others in the midst of such debates?
Consider how you post your status updates. Do you type things like “I can’t understand how anyone would think (fill in the blank)?” It’s worth remembering that people do think that way. Aren’t these people worthy of your time and attention, or at least basic respect? In America, our politics are deeply divided, but they are divided because our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, think differently than we do. What if we remembered that these debates are, at their core, differences between people, and chose to respect them as such?

3. Can we accept living in a “grey” world, when there are as many statistics to support or negate your viewpoint?
Whatever your political convictions, you no doubt have a thousand websites and statistics to support your position. At the end of the day, these statistics, taken together, paint a world that is far more complex than we would like it to be. When it comes to forming an opinion in the face of all this data, most people wind up going with their gut. As a result, these convictions, however well-informed, are ultimately personal. So while we may feel like we are debating data, we are really debating personal differences, and while we may feel like we’re destroying a viewpoint, we may be destroying a person.  People are destroyed far more easily than opinions—and the costs are much greater.

The world is increasingly complex, and not as black and white as we would like to think. We need to grasp emotional maturity in the aspects of differing with others, and find a common ground to stand on. We are human beings, each of us unique and different, with diverse ways of seeing the world. That is actually crucial to increasing our understanding. The mind is beautiful. Let’s treat it as such.

How do you engage with differing opinions?

Image via Rebecca Batista


12 comments

  1. An echo chamber is dangerous in business as one member may not see a flaw in another’s thinking or may be afraid to point it out.

  2. This post had a lot of excellent points, very well said. Sometimes we’re so stuck in our own perspective that we forget to listen to what others have to say.

  3. Here- Thank you for your kind words! I always aim to inform and provoke the reader.

  4. Sometimes, actually most of the time now, I question the world I live in. I read articles like this one and I question my generation, we are the teenagers of today. There are some successes that I am proud of but there are many actions and reactions that I wish were not the reality. We are the internet generation, we believe our lives “depend” on the constant connectivity, the never ending need for another opinion, the desire (yes desire) to be known. We wait for the buzz of our phones hoping it’s the one we like or at least someone who is willing to talk to us for the better part of the day (or night). We have created this society of people that feed off of each other but often in a monkey see monkey do way. We often answer not our opinion but “the opinion”, the cultured opinion that will help us to be accepted. There is so little grey, it is a spectrum of a sun bleached checker board. We ask each other questions, we don’t truly care for the lilted answer, we wait for the questions directed at us. Our chance to share, oddly enough or maybe not at all, with our addiction to attention we often don’t get the contemplation we wish. Repeatedly diverted but an authority saying “cool story, tell it again” an indication that no one cares. There is no telling to be listened to, there is only speech to be noise in the collective. We like to convince ourselves that we are selfless, but it is not the reality. We tolerate each so we can feel like we are a bigger part of something. So we feel as though we mean something, and we do but the way we go upon finding someone that is willing to realize our potential… its saddening.
    We are taught to be strong young people creating change and being who we are, but I find it increasingly difficult to be ourselves. We seek the safety of a collective, we hide behind each other’s fears and strengths to become a strong yet unstable group. I’m glad that we are shown the opposing and mixed perspectives of issues in school because lately there seems to be a lot of assimilation of perspectives.
    I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart and my head because this article really made me think, it helped me make sense (some) of my life, my friends and my generation. It is possible that I will be the only one to ever read this and that’s okay with me, this was almost therapy for me. So thank you, for raising your voice about an issue that is very relevant in today’s modern world.

    1. Oh Holly – Thank you for your words. This was by far the hardest thing for me to write. It’s touching to know that this made an impact on your heart. That one heart counts for changing society, so don’t give up! Warmly.

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  6. Great post, Kate! I would also like to add that sometimes people just don’t think before commenting online. Just now, I read a few comments on a blog post and it was clear from what was said that the commenter quickly scanned the post or didn’t read it at all. I think it’s important for people to get their facts straight before commenting and respect the diverse opinions of others.

    When people post rude comments, I tend to ignore them. There is a fine line between expressing one’s views on a matter and attacking someone else’s opinions. We all have our views, we all have things that we are passionate about. If we disagree with someone’s views, that’s perfectly normal. We all see the world in different ways based on our upbringing, beliefs and personal life experiences.

    Imagine how boring life would be if we all thought the same way?

    1. Donna- I agree with your thoughts. I was raised to believe that Thumper from Bambi had wisdom when he quoted his mother and said,” If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” While there’s room for opinions and disagreements, the bullying that is occurring online needs to stop.

  7. I really liked this article, Kate. It was well written and graceful. I do agree that too many people are eager to jump into heated debates online (myself included) without thinking of respecting the opinions of others. Being a good listener is also definitely something we lose when we are hiding behind a computer screen. Having a decent, mature, and well-informed conversation with people who differ in worldview is a difficult skill to master. I disagree, however, with accepting that we live in a ‘grey’ world. I believe in truth and that it needs to be told. Yes, the world is complex, but how do we know to navigate it if it is full of “maybe yes and maybe no”? Perhaps the challenge is not accepting insubstantial arguments so as not to hurt somebody; but rather to have prudent and intellectual conversations that aim to finding truth, while still holding a mutual respect for the other.

    1. Robyn- Oh how I love truth! However, the older I get the more I realize that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

  8. Hey Kate – great words! I often find it ironic (and honestly, discouraging) that in a postmodern era with so many “tolerant” people, it is often those who are preaching open-mindedness who are unable to have a productive and respectful debate with someone whose opinions differ from theirs. I so appreciate your encouragement for these conversations… the world would be so boring if we all had the same experiences, beliefs, and opinions!

    1. Abbie- Thank you for your kind words. I, too, agree that it would be boring. Now to figure out how to speak with grace and understanding when actually in the moment and not letting the blood boil to hotly. 🙂 Warmly.

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