What Do You Fear?

Once a year I am supposed to change the filters in my furnace. They get dirty and prevent proper airflow which can put unnecessary strain on the motor. The same is true with the air filter on my car – and likely with my lawnmower, vacuum cleaner, and every other motorized device I own. To keep everything operating at its best level, you sometimes have to change – or at least clean the filter.

So, how long has it been since you inspected the information filter that is in your head? Personally, I think mine needs some attention. How about yours?

I am very much aware, that like most everyone else, I suffer from confirmation bias – that tendency to clearly hear facts, figures, and opinions which are aligned with one’s own personal perspectives, and to ignore most of those which are contrary. And that tendency seems to get worse as weariness and/or complacency is setting in. Have you become a bit more weary over the past few months from all the crud? Do you occasionally have the desire to simply stick your head in the sand for a while, until it all passes? If so, be mindful that it is going to take some intentional effort to let new information get through, as biases have clogged the filter.

I have carefully listened to opposing arguments on a number of emotional, controversial issues and have noticed a couple of very common behaviors. First, each person seems much more concerned with proving why her or his point of view is correct, rather than attempting to understand the opponent’s perspectives. That is why these arguments tend to be collective monologues vs. dialogues with insightful inquiries. Second, when contrary information is put forth, it is frequently ignored, or flippantly regarded as oranges in the current discussion about apples.

Sounds as if it is time to do some information filter cleaning. Relevant information can’t get through and it is straining the system. So, I am going to pose one question, which may help you get started on your filter inspection. The question: What is it that you fear from carefully listening to and assessing the opposing point of view?

Think about it… if we try to outtalk the other person, or just ignore their points, one could conclude that we must be afraid of something those others might say. Our dirty filter might be leading us to think that one perspective (our own) is a stroke of brilliance and the other is completely baseless, so there is really no need to waste time even hearing it. Yet deep down, we all know that is very seldom the case. So, what do we fear? Is it fear of being proven wrong about something? Fear that we might need to change our way of thinking? Fear that we know that our perspective is mostly a house of cards, but we would rather double down than admit it? Looking bad or losing something are common fears, and unfortunately, they often clog the filter.

Please remember this – if you are truly convinced that you are not afraid of an opposing viewpoint, then ensure that it gets aired and discussed. Letting more, even conflicting information in, will always result in some kind of learning. And the more we know, the easier it becomes to tackle and resolve the tougher issues we are all facing.

Cleaning your filter means having potentially uncomfortable, but meaningful dialogue to truly understand the other side. Changing the filter might be going so far as to build a supporting case in your mind for that perspective. It does not mean you have to ultimately agree with or fully embrace it. It just means you need to understand it and appreciate why others favor it, as strongly as you favor your own.

Give it a shot. Who knows – you might learn something about the topic at hand, or about yourself. Enjoy the holidays.

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