You’re scrolling through Facebook one day, when in between posts of cat photos and posts about your Facebook friends days you see something that makes you furious. Someone has updated their status in order to say that they think your favorite band sounds exactly like another band. One that you think is way worse than your favorite band. This is obviously wrong. You tell them why they are wrong in a comment, and this turns into a long fight with the other person about whether or not the two bands sound similar, or are any good in the first place. Â Both of you are so steadfast in your opinions that nothing comes out of this argument and you defriend them. You will not have your viewpoint challenged by this person again.
As Sean Blanda discusses in a recent Medium article, titled The Other Side is Not Dumb, social media makes it easier to surround ourselves with those whose opinions mirror ours and to ignore and shun those who are on the other side. We label the other side as stupid, we label our side as enlightened. And we restrict our networks accordingly.
But all of this restriction can be harmful in the long run. How can you improve your interactions when dealing with someone who holds an opinion that you disagree with in order to have a conversation with that person that is productive for both of you? Let’s look harder at being grounded and clear in order to find out.
Blanda writes about a game he plays with his close friends called Controversial Opinion. The rules are simple, he writes, don’t talk about what was shared during Controversial Opinion afterward and you aren’t allowed to argue, “only to ask questions about why that person feels that way.” This game stands opposite to our tendency to give into personal reactivity when confronted with a controversial opinion. If we are giving into our personal reactivity, we might respond with shock, rage, or anger. Blanda typifies this response as someone saying Oh my gosh! I had no idea you were one of those people! The label one of those people puts up a barrier between you and them, and you anchor yourself in the rightness of your opinion and block yourself from considering the rightness of theirs.
At this point you might be thinking: What does it matter if I put up a wall between myself and those who hold opinions that I dislike? If anything, I’m doing them a favor by putting enough distance between us that I don’t go off on them for having the opinion that they do. And you may be right. It may not matter whether you interact with someone, for instance, who holds a negative opinion of your favorite band. But Blanda points out something important about restricting our views in this way: “Online,” he writes, “[this] means we can be blindsided by the opinions of our friends or, more broadly, America. Over time, this morphs into a subconscious belief that we and our friend are the sane ones and that there’s a crazy “other side” that must be laughed at – “an Other Side that just doesn’t “get it,” and is clearly not as intelligent as us. But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.”
A great way to start “moving past this” is by being grounded. Blanda suggests that we should all enter every issue with the very real possibility that we might be wrong this time. Being grounded means you acknowledge for yourself and for others that you might not know what is, in fact, true or best. If you state a viewpoint, it can be strong, yet still open to inquiry. If you make a statement and the response is “That’s not true!” you pause and you are rigorous about truth. That means that you acknowledge that what you think could lead you to conclusions that might not in fact be true. You are open to the possibility that your analysis may be flawed, based on too little information, or unduly influenced by past experiences, by others’ influence, or by cultural biases. So, instead of jumping to conclusions, instead of making a “blink” judgment, instead of assuming you know something, you choose to suspend judgment for a period of time.
You embrace the idea that there are other possibilities and that the version of the truth that seems most likely to you may be true, but maybe not. This leads you to interact with others in a different way. You are engaged. You remain curious. You seek information. You use your creativity and imagination to help you consider different versions of truth that might be possible. When you do this with others it is an act of generosity on your part, but it will also pay great dividends back to you because you will avoid a great deal of suffering and conflict that is fueled by your flawed judgments.
When you suspend your judgement for long enough to use the “maybe, maybe not” principle, you engage differently with whatever you are challenged by. You look harder. Blanda lists a few examples: “Think political correctness has gotten out of control? Follow the many great social activists on Twitter. Think America’s stance on guns is puzzling? Read the stories of the 31% of Americans that own a firearm. This is not to say the Other Side is ‘right’ but they likely have a reason to feel that way. And only after understanding those reasons can a real discussion take place.”
If you’re looking to have a quality interaction with someone, it is not enough to disregard their opinion. It requires engaging actively with their ideas, understanding where they come from, and ultimately understanding that your own thoughts are not empirically the correct ones. Once you accept and understand the other’s points of view on those important subjects, you can start to move on to working together to solve the issues that seem to divide us. That could be as simple as resolving an argument about music preferences, or something as complicated as climate change. In both cases, though, getting grounded is an important place to start.