Why Don’t We Like to Hear From Different Opinions?

Photo by Lucky7trader via Unsplash

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

Photo by Lucky7trader via Unsplash

By Kathryn Puharic, Staff Writer

As the use of prominent social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook become more popular in today’s society, people’s thoughts and opinions are now posted for hundreds of viewers. Many of us have probably seen posts concerning politics or pop culture, followed by the array of positive or negative support for these ideas. It seems that nobody on the Internet can seem to get along, or even acknowledge ideas challenging their own. This prompts the question, Why don’t most of us like hearing from opposing viewpoints?

The answer to this question may seem simple, “We don’t like hearing things that go against our point of view.” We find comfort in hearing ideas that are similar to our own, and hearing our friends or family share these views with us. But, as Rodger Duncan of Forbes writes, “The problem with that kind of echo chamber is that we miss the opportunity to learn…opposing views can be surprisingly informative. And they can enrich our own understanding of issues that are important to us”. Constantly surrounding ourselves with people who think like us surprisingly can do more harm than good. Duncan continues, “While it’s comforting to hear that you’re right all of the time, it skews our perspectives in a dangerous way”. Surrounding ourselves with people who never challenge our ideas or views helps us live in a sort of bliss, one where we are comforted in hearing that we are always right. 

What happens when we follow social media accounts that only share our political ideas? Or listen to podcasts or TV that only account for our viewpoints? We start to lose our reasoning for the other side’s argument. The need to prove that our opinions or ideas are superior become so important that we lose sight of finding a way to respect and listen to each other. In other words, what Larry Kramer from the Hewlett Foundation calls “listening with empathy”, he further explains: “Learning to listen with empathy matters for a number of reasons. An advocate needs to see an opponent’s argument in its strongest light, not only to counter the position effectively, but also to fully understand his or her own position—its weaknesses as well as its strengths”. Counter arguments are crucial in order to understand faults in our own viewpoints, and also to make our own claims stronger. In opposing arguments we may learn valuable insights that were never considered before, making our argument sound more educated.

Intellectual discussions about differing viewpoints take away the “win-lose” narrative many of us are used to in a discussion. If someone doesn’t agree with what we say, we automatically try to persuade them to join our side. Instead, replacing these types of conversations with a new approach- one in which both sides want to listen and find common ground- can make us listen to each other and want to learn more about different sides to our argument.

As political discussions get more heated with upcoming elections, finding a common ground proves to be crucial for the future of our society. Although these discussions may be uncomfortable to have, without people challenging thoughts and views, our democracy itself could be in serious danger.