Sean Edwards

The American Resurrection

How Access To More Information Is Making Us Less Tolerant

spiral-stairs_lightpngThe internet is making us more tolerant right?

For the first time in history we have access to news from all over the world.

In days gone by, we were limited to our local news outlet. And sometimes, those didn’t even exist.

But today, we have access to anything and everything. We should be getting smarter, more complete pictures of world events, right?

In some ways, yes. But in others, we’re really only building our own “echo chambers.”

Now we can cherry pick which news outlets we listen to. We can choose which blogs we read. And we choose who’s comments we see in a Facebook News Feed.

This distorts how we see the world. Our worldview can seem dominate, while other opinions appear to be less widespread.

Individuals who disagree with us appear to be on the fringe of society… but our view of society has been distorted.

Those individuals are merely on the fringe of our perception of reality.

This isn’t malicious. People are not doing this on purpose. But it is REALLY easy to do.

How We Create Our Own Reality Distortion Fields

Let’s say you’re a conservative Christian. You probably don’t watch a lot of CNN or MSNBC because those news agencies fare fairly biased to the left. That doesn’t jive with your worldview, so you probably gravitate towards Fox or the Wall Street Journal.

And then, most of your friends will probably share your values. They are probably a similar demographic and are part of a similar socio-economic circle. And they will post things that re-affirm your values.

So, what you see very day is a bunch of people who agree with you, and you listen to news that leans in your direction.

Do you see how little, innocuous choices we make every day can lead us to surround ourselves with our own opinions without us realizing it?

Little, innocuous choices we make every day can lead us to surround ourselves with our own opinions without realizing it.

The same thing happens on the left, except in reverse.

You probably avoid Fox News and watch MSNBC. You read the New York Times over the Wall Street Journal. And a lot of your friends probably share your same opinions.

This is dangerous, however. Because it is easy to jump from your own echo chamber to prejudice.

If you are surrounded by people who believe the same thing as you, you will subconsciously assume that your opinion is in the majority (or is at least a large group). But your perspective could be WAY off (without you realizing it).

So, you think your worldview is “normal,” and when you hear a different worldview they are automatically “not normal.”

If all I’m hearing is that Bernie Sanders wants to destroy corruption, and Trump hates minorities, then I’m going to start believing this as “normal.” And when I encounter a Trump supporter, I’m going to put them into the “not normal” camp. And I’m going to assume they also hate minorities.

To you, there is no other option. All the facts prove it (that you’ve seen).

But you’ve merely created your own echo chamber and you aren’t seeing reality.

This can cause us to judge people unfairly.

How To Break The Echo Chamber In Your Life

To move forward, we need to realize that smart people can disagree with us. And we need to recognize that our view of reality may not be accurate.

Most people, or at least most smart people may not think like us, nor may they share our opinions. And assuming otherwise it dangerous.

If someone holds a different opinion (one we think is a minority position), we need to take a step back and see if we’re reacting to reality, or our own perception of reality.

Reality distortion fields are real. They are easy to make. And they make it easy to judge other people who hold a different opinion.

If we want our republic to last, we need to learn to see beyond our own perspective.

I challenge you to do this: The next time you get mad a comment someone makes about politics, set aside your offense for a moment, and temporarily adopt that person’s worldview and values. You don’t have to keep them. You can always pick yours back up at any moment.

Look at the issue through their eyes. Try to understand why they believe what they believe. Think the issue from that perspective. And, please, assume people are good until you know for a fact that they aren’t.

If someone holds a different opinion from you, assume they have good intentions until you can prove they don’t. It is never helpful to enter a conversation assuming someone is a liar, malicious, or ignorant.

There’s an Emerson quote I love, and often need reminding of: “In my walks, every man [or woman] I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him [or her].”

“In my walks, every man [or woman] I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him [or her].”

This is how we make America great again.

About Sean Edwards

Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.

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  • Eileen

    As long as our education system is centralized, the polarization will get worse. As a boomer, I can see the differences in the way I was educated and the way that millennials are (from how they think). I know this is a generalization because there are boomers who can’t think critically just as there are millennials who are phenomenal thinkers. As long as we keep educating our children that they are incapable of thinking for themselves and making their own decisions, we will continue to polarize because we are tribal in nature.

    I think the way we get away from depending upon the media telling us how to think is to go back to education basics, so that children can think critically when they grow up. Decentralization of education is one place where we can start, because many states allow home schooling (in other words, gutting common core).

    • Sean Edwards

      Great thoughts Eileen!

  • Peggy Hines

    I like what you say, Sean, but at the same time there were so many lies, half-truths and innuendo spread around leading up to this cataclysmic election that I just got exhausted trying to see it ‘from their perspective.’ How do we deal with the fact that there were so many ‘fake’ news sites people were pointing to as telling the ‘truth.’ I tried really hard not to dismiss what people I love were saying, and I went with an open mind to the sites they pointed to as their evidence to support their views. However, in most cases what I found were what I call “fake news sites”–slick looking websites, but when the About section was explored it quickly became evident that there was either extreme bias and a short-lived history, or there was simply no information about the ‘journalists’ writing the stories. Rarely did I find links to actual data, and most of the few times I did find links to actual data information was being ‘cherry-picked’ out of context to create a very biased picture.

    How do we deal with those whose perspective is based on what a little research reveals as lies, half-truths and innuendo? I don’t enter the conversation with these beliefs, but after a little research, and perhaps a little critical thinking, it becomes painfully clear. And these are people I love.

    • Sean Edwards

      Peggy, you describe a very real problem, and I don’t know of an easy or quick answer. All I can do is tell you what I do.

      For dealing with bias, I generally stick to the major networks, and I scan multiple outlets. For instance, I consistently visit these news sites: CNN, Fox News, BBC, Al-Jazeera USA, TheHill.com, and the Wall Street Journal. I don’t visit all of them every day, but this is where I go for headlines. They are very different from each other, based in different countries, and have different agendas. Through the plurality of motives, I hope to find a whole picture.

      But, to get to the real issue, what do you when people send you “crazy” news articles? How are you supposed to understand them then?

      Well, after I realize what I’m looking at (crazy news) I usually ignore the content of the story itself, and try to find the principles, values, and presuppositions that would allow someone to believe what they’re reading.

      So, if the articles is about how Hillary assassinates people, and I’ve determined its a crazy news source, I’ll step back and say, “This is not credible information, but this person believes it. Why? What do they believe about the world that causes them to think this is true?” Then I can see the world through their eyes easier.

      Then, if the person is really stuck on piece of misinformation, I’ll gently offer a reason for why that might not be true. But, that comes after I’ve empathized. People need to feel heard, and they need to know that they won’t be judged for their opinion. So, if you can say, “I know Trump said some terribly offensive things, but if he were truly a racist, why would black and asian people work for him?” But, they will only hear that once they know you’re listening. And even then they might not. Ultimately, we have to go into every conversation knowing we can’t change someone’s mind. We can only communicate what we believe to be true and let other people do with it as they please. Knowing this removes our pressure to communicate the truth, and makes the other person feel more comfortable (because people can tell when they’re being preached to).

      I know this is vague, but it is the best I can offer right now. I hope it is helpful.