If you constantly surround yourself with people and opinions you agree with, you will become more and more convinced you are right, since you hear and see nothing else.
Little by little it gets increasingly troublesome to read or listen even to those who slightly disagree with you. This aversion might not just be related to a need to be right. The more impenetrable and smaller your own bubble, the more you will fear what is outside that bubble.
We will never be able to make progress and grow as human beings if we do not expose ourselves to disagreement.
Last night, I watched an interview with Steve Bannon at the Oxford Union. For those of you who do not who know he his: He is the founder of the right-wing Breitbart News website, and Trump’s former Chief Strategist. He believes in restrictions on immigration and free trade, and was a strong opposer to the Paris climate agreement.
It is easy to dismiss his arguments as outrageous. That will not make him and his supporters go away. Quite the contrary.
What I was curious about, was what kind of feelings he tries to instil in people, and how. Because the strategies populists such as Bannon employ are not based on rationality, but on emotions. Though they try to portray themselves as sensible and seasoned.
Bannon succeeded with that. He is eloquent and able to present coherent and convincing arguments, with a desire to look after “the little guy”. He frequently returned to the fact that he was protecting the “deplorables and left-behinds. “
I can easily see how he can convince people who do not know much about politics, who feel helpless and angry and want some immediate resolutions.
What is most dangerous about characters like him is not what that say, but what they leave out. It takes knowledge and a strong dose of critical thinking to see through his arguments. For instance, that many of those who voted for Trump were not among the so-called “left-behinds”. Or that Saudi-Arabia might be a strong ally of the U.S, but not mentioning the fact that the country, through its financial support to mosques and Islamic schools around the world, spreads jihadism and radical islam. As well as forcefully opposing free speech and women’s rights.
A sad fact to accept is that we are easily duped. And highly susceptible to propaganda and selected information. Even if you consider yourself to be educated and discerning. That is of course the reason why any repressive regime, do their utmost to control the flow of information, and why propaganda, even in open societies, is so effective.
Social media select and present to you what you seem to like. Making you even more sure that your view of the world is the right one. If you want to read or watch something you do not like, you have to actively search for that yourself.
Seeking out divergent views is also a test of your own convictions. You will never know how good or correct they are, if they are never tested. And they need to be tested constantly, because what you grew up to believe, or even believed five years ago, may not be valid any longer.
Like a muscle, you need to train your acceptance, and your ability to listen to differing points of view. Ask yourself, even if it is inconvenient ,if they might be: right? partly right? wrong? but not totally wrong?
Before you decide to dismiss a statement, or scream for crucifixion, you need to figure out if those opinions actually are intolerable. Criticising people for their behaviour is not racism, as long as you know you would have criticised any person for the same behaviour. My claiming that Robert Mugabe has destroyed his country and caused tremendous suffering to his people, does not make me a racist. My not liking what I see and learn about Islam or Catholicism, does not make me a racist either, especially since being a Muslim or a Catholic are not about race, but about believing in a set of ideas I do not agree with. (I am not religious).
And lo and behold, it is possible to like people though they might have different opinions from your own.
What is certain is that, mocking or humiliating others will never make anyone change their minds. It might boost your ego “winning” an argument, but you will not change the minds of those you “defeated.”
If you are tired of shallow news reports or the fruitless infighting on social media, and instead want to listen to some intelligent, entertaining, and sometimes controversial dialogues on a variety of issues, I highly recommend Sam Harris’s podcasts.