We're all partial to our own opinions. I like my opinions. You like your opinions. Sometimes we have the same opinion, and sometimes we don't. That's natural and normal.
Here's how brains work. All day long we take in new experiences and information, and then our brains unconsciously file all that data away. We don't even realize it's happening!
The default setting of a brain is to filter all incoming information in a way that supports the opinions we already have. This phenomenon is called confirmation bias. Every time we take in new information that supports an opinion we already have, it feels like a special treat for our brains. Like a giant piece of chocolate cake. The feeling of being right activates the pleasure center, and it feels yummy.
We basically spend our lives strengthening the beliefs, opinions, and values that we already have. This is why we're drawn to people, groups, and news outlets that support our existing worldviews. It's like eating chocolate cake all day long.
The more information we ingest, the more rooted our core values become, and core values are a big deal. They shape the way we experience reality.
Shouting, statistics, angry Facebook posts and newspaper clippings are not enough to get someone to embrace another person's contrary opinion. That's just not how brains work. Brains want to feel pleasure and safety, so they're searching out information that will support their existing beliefs — not oppose them.
Presenting someone with information that counters their existing opinions doesn't activate their pleasure center — it activates their fear center, which makes people feel anxious, judged, and defensive. Instead of a delicious, cake sort of feeling, it's a unsettling feeling. Like being blindfolded and spun around and dropped off in an unknown location.
No wonder no one is all that quick to change their opinions, beliefs, and core values!
Most of us are happy to state and restate (and restate again) our own perspectives, but we don't like listening to opposing perspectives. And the reason is that for our brains, it feels risky — like a threat to our safety. We'd rather just eat cake and leave our brains to run perpetually in the default setting. It's a lot easier to just listen to people who think like we already think.
Fear to freedom
There's another option, though. There's a internal software update that's free and accessible to all of us. It's not a quick download. It takes a whole lifetime and it requires regular maintenance. It's worth it, though. It's a path that leads from fear to freedom.
If we shift from auto-pilot into manual, we end up with an option that a lot of us didn't even know we had buried inside. We can opt to take in information in ways that free us to form alternative opinions, develop different core values, and expand our worldviews.
It's important to note that making the most of the manual brain setting requires a willingness to be wrong. This is no small task. In fact, it's one of the most difficult tasks of all. But it gets easier the more we practice.
The trick is to help our brains remember that being wrong is OK and safe. We won't internally combust if we trade in our old opinion for a new one. Brains like to be right because they like to feel safe. We can be wrong and still be safe, and when we understand this, the fear center of our brains calms down.
We're then able to hear about someone else's worldview without becoming enraged and defensive.
When we remind ourselves of this important reality, we begin to become more comfortable hearing viewpoints entirely different from our own. It's humbling in a beautifully powerful way. We become more open and less fearful, and that frees up all kinds of space in our hearts and minds.
We can understand
It's tempting to believe that the people of this country are so divided that we'll never be able to understand one another. But that's a lie; a total, complete lie. And a lot of executives are making a lot of money off of us believing that myth and being sucked into a media vortex 24 hours a day.
Why are we so sucked in? For a very understandable reason! Because watching and reading media that supports the beliefs we already have is like consuming non-stop chocolate cake. While it might feel good to the pleasure centers of our brains, it's actually giving us gut rot. We are a country with a massive case of gut rot, and it's time to add some vitamins and minerals back into the diet.
We all have a lot to learn from each other, and we're not going to learn it by watching and listening to opinions exactly like the ones we already have. So let's turn off the noise and get to work. We've got a lot of listening and learning to do.