We all talk about how hard it is to find a news outlet these days that isn’t wildly partisan. We bemoan the fact that because news consumption is so fragmented, we’re all living in filter bubbles, unaware of how “the other side” thinks about a given issue. I’m as guilty as the next person. But a recent experience with a close friend helped me to challenge my exisiting biases on one of the many controversies du jour.
This friend shared a podcast on this topic of the sort I’d never listen to on my own. It’s simply not the kind of content I ever “run into” because…well…it’s outside my bubble. I did the same for her. I’m not sure we changed each other’s minds. I do think we both broadened our horizons and had a bit more empathy for how and why the other person is where they are on this issue.
This experience reminded of a blog I wrote a few years back about how to escape your own filter bubble. Turns out I’d taken my own advice! This problem feels urgent to me right now, especially in the United States. So if you’re feeling trapped inside a filter bubble, I’d encourage you to have a read.
My son called me recently to share an observation he’s had at college. While his older professors are wise and erudite, they aren’t necessarily as open to new ideas as some of his younger professors.
He’s onto something. While older people benefit from higher levels of crystalized intelligence, fluid intelligence peaks in our 20’s. Stated in layman’s terms, our skills, abilities and knowledge increase as we age, due to our accumulated experience. But our ability to take in new and less familiar information diminishes.
To the extent this is true, I find it deeply troubling in the current cultural moment in which we find ourselves. In a world that’s ever more polarized politically , we need to leave our bubbles.
Here are three ways to expand your worldview as you age:
Challenge your biases
In an effort to become equitable and inclusive, a lot of organizations now offer workshops to tackle what’s known as “unconscious bias.” These workshops raise awareness of the snap judgments people make—often about race and gender—which subconsciously affect assessments of talent, character, and more.
To which I say: awesome. But some of our biases aren’t subconscious. According to Pew Research, a large majority of people on both the Left (75%) and the Right (63%) in the United States claim to see their political opponents as “close minded.” And once you go down that path, you will begin making all sorts of assumptions about “the other” that get in the way of mutual understanding.
I myself got a lesson in challenging my own biases when I went to work at an online magazine called Politics Daily. When I started writing there, I just assumed that most—if not all—of the staff would be card-carrying, Pro-Choicers like myself. I was wrong. Both of my editors were pro-life, as were many of the columnists there.
It was tempting—especially when my articles on abortion seemed to get extra scrutiny from the editors—to dismiss these individuals as dogmatic and, yes, close-minded. Ultimately, however, their feedback was a blessing. It forced me to listen to and engage with a diverse set of political views that I didn’t always share. Their comments also forced me to work that much harder to defend my views on things like abortion, rather than taking them for granted.
When I teach persuasive writing, I always suggest to my students that they share their writing with an ideological opponent. It is the very best way to see if you are really inhabiting someone else’s world view. You learn to spot your own knee-jerk suppositions more readily and begin to challenge some of them.
Read outside your comfort zone
Last year, a friend who’s a good deal more conservative than I lent me The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukanioff and Jonathan Haidt. The book explores the pronounced shrinking of ideological diversity and debate on American college campuses in recent years. (Editor’s note: A timely subject!!)
At the time, I smiled politely and tossed the book into a pile of “to be read eventuallys.” I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to it. The title—which pivots off of Allan Bloom’s famous 1980’s treatise The Closing of the American Mind—sounded off-putting. I automatically assumed the book would be an ad hominem attack on progressive thought, and hence, not for me.
I was wrong. There’s a good deal of criticism in the book of cancel culture. The Left catches a bit more heat from the authors on this topic than does the Right. But it’s a very well-reasoned and even-handed book about what happens when we cling to our truths and stop listening to one another.
For me, the book underscored why it’s so important to read outside of your ideological comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be a book. It could be a magazine. Or a newspaper. The key is to break through your filter bubble.
Widen Your Social Circles
Finally, be sure that you build wider social circles. I live in the UK. The Brexit vote was—and continues to be—one of the most divisive things to happen to this country in years. When the debate first erupted, I just assumed that all Brexiteers were a bunch of wacko nutters who didn’t like immigrants. Then several of my friends told me that they—or their parents—had voted for Brexit and explained why.
Over the years, I’ve come to really value this diversity in political views amongst my friends. As my cousin, who lives in Colorado, once pointed out to me, “There are real advantages to living in a ‘Purple state.’ It forces you to be more tolerant.”
And tolerance is exactly what we need right now. We will not get there by adopting an us vs. them mentality or cancelling one another. Rather, as Arianna Huffington put it beautifully , “The only way to allow for growth collectively is to allow for growth individually.”
What will you do to move beyond your biases?
This post originally appeared on Sixty and Me.