We all know that some people are easily influenced, but we would never consider ourselves to be in that category. After all, we are all aspiring scholars, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and even industry leaders. We are future UConn alumni; the people who influence. Our years of education and tireless commitment to our respective fields will surely change the world forever. However, what if I were to tell you that the change you seek to actualize, might actually… make us all worse off?
I will show you why even the smartest, most productive people on the planet, can be equally susceptible to supporting irrational, regressive, and sometimes harmful ideas, just as everyone else is.
Our minds are collections of interactions between different neurons which accomplish functions that any single neuron cannot, such as critical reasoning. Likewise, societies are collections of interactions between different people which can accomplish functions that any one person cannot, such as going to the moon.
Just as neurons communicate with each other to perform the higher functions of the brain, open and honest communication between people is how our society identifies problems, speculates solutions, and implements effective strategies.
Each of our different biases, backgrounds, and perspectives play an irreplaceable role in both the expression of our society and contribute to the formulation of effective solutions.
In the words of popular YouTuber Michael Stevens (aka Vsauce), our different biases at least half the amount of cognitive work that must be done in order come to a consensus. It does this by incentivizing all invested parties to only attend to the information that would support their preconceptions, and then debating it with someone who does the same process but starting from a different preconception. Underutilizing the biases that exist in our communities only ensures that our own biases will destroy the well-intentioned goals we seek to achieve with unexpected consequences.
Additionally, our different backgrounds allow people to benefit from the discoveries and insights that stem from cultures in which they do not directly participate in. This provides inclusivity of different experiences into the public discussion. For example, a doctor would indisputably have a valuable opinion about the medical implications of a new city proposal, just as someone from a city management background would have a valuable opinion regarding the proposal’s potential effects on public infrastructure. Ignoring the perspectives of our peers is a mistake, one that cripples even the most ambitious idea’s ability to take important aspects of implementation into consideration.
“And who knows? you might even find out that it is you who is wrong. Be open to the possibility or be closed to the reality.”
And finally, our different perspectives ensure that when open and honest debates occur, that society considers all the different factors that go into a potential decision, and all the different consequences that may come as a result thereof. If every perspective has its best interests in mind, and we get every perspective’s attention on our systemic and cultural issues, then the solution will address, and be catered towards, everyone.
The only way we can escape this echo chamber we find ourselves in, is to use our biological reasoning skills as they have evolved to be used, in honest and representative small groups. We must disagree with each other, not to make the other person know they are wrong, but so you can be sure you are correct in the face of different perspectives. This is partly why people seeking a doctorate must defend their dissertations, so that they prepare a well-rounded opinion that can withstand criticism. When we fail to do this, we fail to reason.
Honest discussions also stand to greatly improve the lives of the dearly misinformed. When people dismiss others with views that they deem immoral, idiodic, or unjust, they end up ostracizing and unintentionally validating their opinions, instead of discouraging them. While it is impossible to give every perspective an equal amount of attention on public platforms, if they are disregarded completely, inconvenient stances fester into dangerous oppositions. Ostracized people crave community like any of us, and without one, they will seek people who will listen to them, and often the ostracized congregate together. If we have the difficult conversations with these people, it will not ostracize them, and it will even give them a chance to change their mind. They may not change in that instant, but that conversation may serve as the seed in that person’s life that flowers into meaningful change one day.
So next time you are at a dinner party, and that one person starts raddling off about that one politically or morally reprehensible opinion to share in public, talk to them, even if it is just trivial, especially if it is just trivial. People are often apprehensive to the idea that they are wrong, so be patient and understanding, but be sure to disagree.
And who knows? You might even find out that it is you who is wrong. Be open to the possibility or be closed to the reality.