We forgot how to disagree

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Our society seems to be caught in a polarisation trap

What we seem to have forgotten is that disagreement isn’t only more interesting than if everyone you talk to agrees with everything you say; its important to have differing opinions. Its only through lively debate that we can have our ideas, views and beliefs challenged. And its only by allowing our ideas to be challenged that we can reaffirm those ideas – or alternatively be ready to be persuaded that maybe there was something we hadn’t thought of, and actually were wrong.

Because of course thats also important, and it’s something that has allowed, and continues to allow, our species to move forward and develop.

Thats why autocratic societies or groups only work for a certain period of time – if you can’t point it out when you think your leaders, or your thought leaders, are developing odd ideas, or straying, then there’s no corrective, and the group and its group think will ultimately die out.

And a leader who’s worthy of that position will know that he or she needs a cabinet of independent thinkers, who can question, add to and improve their ideas, rather than a  bunch of yea sayers.

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What a worryingly large number of people in our world don’t seem to realise is that through siloing, funnels and social media, we are constantly presented with our ideas being parroted back at us and, in the case of social media, those ideas being amplified and made ever more extreme.

No two news feeds are the same

Because our Facebook feeds etc etc present each and every one of us with a completely individual version of reality that’s unique only to us. No two news feeds are the same. Facebook, for example, knows exactly what you want to see, and exactly what will trigger you to like, click, comment and rail against, all adding up to their golden elixir, namely time spent on and engagement with the site, which of course correlates one to one to the amount of advertising dollars they make.

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being open to the idea that we might just be wrong

We shouldn’t seek out people who simply agree with us, who reflect our own viewpoint back at us. We should be – we have to be – open to discussion. To having our beliefs questioned. To being open to the idea that we might just be wrong. If you’ve ever engaged in that, you’ll know that being buttonholed to explain your thinking on a subject forces you to put your understanding of the things that we all too often just accept as obvious, to the test of putting those thoughts into words. And if you’re right about it, that simply strengthens your thoughts, your stance. So it’s not something to be afraid of, but to embrace.

We, as a society, as a species, simply can’t carry on when we have groups with radically different and entrenched viewpoints that we’re not prepared to have questioned; that we’re not prepared to discuss calmly, face to face, with the core idea through it all that we’re all people, we’re all brothers and sisters – or at least cousins once removed – and we need to respect other people’s ideas, even when they’re diametrically opposed to our own.

Featured image by Jopwell via Pexels