We take in more information in a day than someone in the 1800s may have heard in a lifetime. Yet, our exposure to diverse opinion is shrinking. Why? Because we completely customize any and all content we come in contact with–from our news, to our social media, to our entertainment. I believe this hyper-tailoring is at the expense of the expansive understanding necessary to our humanity.
Today’s content customization gives us the ability to shut out ideas and opinions that run counter to those we already hold. And, it makes us smaller. And, I’d even argue that intense customization of content to our liking makes hearing opposition to our ideas harder, therefore, even more essential.
And, more urgent.
In fact, I recently read that several universities, including Yale, are creating “safe spaces” where students can avoid being exposed to ideas they don’t agree with. WHAT?? Not exposed to ideas they don’t agree with?! I know there’s a lot more to this issue but isn’t that one of the benefits of college? To broaden your mind beyond what you already know?
Exposure to ideas you don’t agree with makes your ideas better. Makes you better. And, the more you don’t agree with an idea, the more you need to at least understand it. That’s why I appreciate those contrary souls who play the devil’s advocate. Everyone knows one.
It’s person you’re working with on a project that ALWAYS has a completely opposing view. The person you disagree with 100 percent.
I have to admit it would be easy to ignore the contrarians because more than part of me loves being on a positive roll … unchallenged and unopposed. But, as an effective communications professional, I know I’m better off opening my mind to my devil’s advocates.
They make me and my ideas better and stronger.
When I have a devil’s advocate in the room, I try hard for my first response to be, “Help me understand why you feel the way you do. Help me understand your perspective.”
And, then I listen. Really listen. Not while thinking about how I plan to counter their opposition, but listen to hear the merit in their point of view. I listen to expand my understanding.
Here’s what I get out of it:
- Growing ideas into more than I thought they could be.
- Avoiding pitfalls I may not have considered.
- Understanding perspectives my customers or clients may have.
- Demonstrating to others the value of all the views in the room.
- Making it safe for future devil’s advocate to speak up.
- Knowing more fully why I feel the way I do.
We all prefer our own opinions, thoughts and ideas. But exposure to those that differ is central to our humanity. After all, at the root of tolerance … at the root of compassion … is understanding. And, if we choose to only let in that with which we agree, we will lose both and more.