Crossing the Opinion Barrier
What they are and how getting over them can help you do better.
I’ve referred to the idea of an “opinion barrier” as a barrier to learning. Opinions get in the way of learning.
I increasingly see opinions becoming obstacles stopping people from being able to understand one another.
I’m referring to moments when phrases like these are uttered: “I can’t understand why anyone would do that.” “Why do they do that?”
These are failures to understand a fellow human being.
This failure stems from a shallow understanding of oneself as a human being. Understanding what makes us human allows us to project ourselves into others.
Because we are all humans, we are all fallible. All of us are subject to make mistakes.
We all have moments of confusion, distraught, anger, fear, unease, and so forth. Our feelings in each moment influence how we act.
But you’re the only one who has your feelings in your given moments.
You let your emotions rule you whenever you don’t acknowledge how they are influencing your actions.
You might be saying, “why should I care if my emotions influence my actions?”
You have to care because we don’t get to decide our emotions. None of us can simply “choose to be happy.” But we get to decide on the actions we take.
I see this exemplified most commonly among two interactions.
- Someone doesn’t attempt to understand another person and brushes them off.
- Someone is angry and acts out in anger because they feel they are unheard and not a part of the group.
Part of the human experience is desiring to be understood, known, accepted, and valued.
We often seek directives to tell us what to think, feel, and do. Because we quickly get tired of the effort it takes to engage in the back-and-forth that makes up reasonable debates. So we opt to position all our thoughts, ideas, and experience to a specific viewpoint.
And every bit of information we come across is filed under our chosen viewpoint. And we often choose to hold the view of whatever group we feel accepts us.
The alternative is to do the hard work of seeking out background information and nuance within every concept. To collect various bits of information into a giant emotionless reservoir of potentially relevant info and then retrieve data from it as it becomes relevant. This enables one to explain concepts in more detail and show how those details don’t align with some ideas.
We have to be aware of the approach we’re using to process information. Are you using a viewpoint or a reservoir of information?
Once you get attached to a viewpoint, other pieces of information are hard to accept. This searching for, favoring, interpreting, and recalling in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs is called confirmation bias.
Humans commonly choose to ignore information that contradicts their beliefs. We’re really good at ignoring. We come with brains that are built to ignore. Every moment floods them with mostly irrelevant sensory input. And this ignorance is performed unconsciously for a reason. The ability to ignore irrelevant things unconsciously was simply better for our survival. We can’t perceive everything, so we have to be selective.
We try to avoid finding out how we’re wrong and indulge in finding out how we’re right. You have to seek truth in what others are saying.
If disagreement persists the true sources of disagreement are either hard to communicate, or hard to expose. E.g.:
- Uncommon, but well-supported, scientific knowledge or math;
- Long inferential distances;
- Hard-to-verbalize intuitions, perhaps stemming from specific visualizations;
- Zeitgeists inherited from a profession (that may have good reason for it);
- Patterns perceptually recognized from experience;
- Sheer habits of thought;
- Emotional commitments to believing in a particular outcome;
- Fear that a past mistake could be disproved;
- Deep self-deception for the sake of pride or other personal benefits; (Eliezer Yudkowsky, How to Actually Change Your Mind)
Select quotes from Manifesto for a Moral Revolution:
Commit to stretching beyond your comfort zone to meet those whose realities are different from your own. You might be surprised at what you find on the other side.
By allowing polarities to dominate a debate, we free ourselves from facing the painful trade-offs and costs that every choice entails. And we deny ourselves the opportunity to rediscover that we are better than we think we are.
By default, we seek to minimize the distress associated with holding two or more contradictory beliefs simultaneously—popularly known as cognitive dissonance.
Out Beyond Ideas by Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense.
Each of us has to reach across the opinion barrier and acknowledge the truths in opposing perspectives.
We have to recognize and understand our moods, emotions, and drives. We have to put in the effort to understand the emotional makeup of other people. And we have to do the hard work of finding common ground.