I have a few fears that come with behaviors attached, and high on my prioritized list of scary things I could do is the fear of not taking into account as many vantage points as are presented to me. As Aristotle wrote – It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. I aspire to an educated mind.
The ability to present our own views without being blinded by them is fundamental to effective communication. The key to not being blinded by our own attitudes is avoiding confirmation bias.
For the sake of clarity, confirmation bias is defined as the tendency to interpret evidence or points of view that are presented to us only as they confirm our own pre-existing world view, and to disregard and/or avoid any evidence or point of view that would lead us to question the same. It involves purposefully seeking out only the information that confirms what we believe and ignoring what calls our beliefs into question. Confirmation bias is strongly ingrained into human nature.
Avoiding this pitfall is important for me, and sometimes it is hard work.
After all, who doesn’t want to unfriend that one idiot who posts all the (not thought) provoking tea party, anti-climate change, you’re either ‘with me or against me’ tripe on Facebook?
Or the ninny that posts about meditating to cure illnesses; who likes and shares every bit of drivel that Deepak Choprah spews out? (FYI, I always get a giggle out of this: http://www.wisdomofchopra.com/)
Who would it hurt to end what is obviously not a true friendship, but what is probably at best an acquaintance based on some perverse intellectual voyeurism?
Therein lies the rub. It would hurt me.
I keep my circle wide because it helps me maintain my mental acuity. How else would I encounter a daily challenge to my ability refute inanity? What other reason do I have to keep that logical fallacies poster by my desk or to maintain solid knowledge of Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement? I could end up being one of those people who defends her opinions with the lazy way out “Because that’s the way I was raised/the tradition/how we’ve always done it”
More importantly, I keep my circle wide because disagreeing with one person’s one point of view does not mean that that same one person does not have something to teach me, because we don’t just learn from agreement. I particularly cherish the people who do really think critically and rationally, but still arrive at different conclusions from me.
Confirmation bias is a real danger. When all our contacts and information are selected from sympathetic sources it is too easy to become intellectually compromised, and maybe even to become one of the nitwit someone else blogs about.
So I thank all the nitwits, simpletons, cretins and nincompoops that exist within the parameters of my network. You keep me sharp. My family, however, may not be as grateful because thanks to you they get to listen to a lot of frustrated raving about the sad state of society and how much I despair for the future of the human race.