Americans may be living in an echo chamber. Several studies have revealed that – given the choice – many people prefer the company of those who share their political or religious leanings, and are downright antagonist toward those who are the most different from them.
As recently as 2014, a Pew Research Center study showed that 63 percent of consistent conservatives and 49 percent of consistent liberals say their close friends share their political views. That same study revealed half of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals say it’s important to live where people share their political views. Another Pew survey indicated that evangelicals and atheists have an especially chilly attitude toward each other.
We don’t seem willing to get outside our comfort zones when it comes to making friends. That unwillingness to listen to opposing ideas can cause us to carry around pre-conceived notions about each other. We might find that we have more in common than we realize if we would open up to each other and listen.
For example, you might ask, “Should a good Christian hang around with hippies, punk rockers and millennials?” My answer would be, “Absolutely.” I include millennials in that equation mostly because I think older generations are too quick to discount the views of the young. We have every right to maintain our values, but remaining in our bubble of judgment is good for no one.
Here are three reasons why expanding our sphere of acquaintances is worthwhile:
- It helps us better understand others. Everyone has heard the old saying about not judging someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. We may not get a chance to experience exactly what they experienced. But we can still reach out to them and try to understand them.
- It challenges what we believe. Often people become locked into their views and don’t even think about why they believe what they believe any more. Maybe what we believe made sense at one time, but now it may no longer be relevant. Maybe we were right then and still are today. Or maybe we were wrong all along.
- It broadens our perspective. We don’t grow intellectually if we aren’t prepared to have our assumptions challenged. The world’s a complex place with a lot of fascinating people. What they have to say can be worth listening to.
I began to realize the drawbacks of associating only with like-minded people when I was a graduate student at Kent State University in 1990. The college was marking the 20th anniversary of what has come to be known as the Kent State massacre, when Ohio National Guard troops shot and killed four young people during an anti-war protest on May 4, 1970. Construction of a memorial on campus became controversial because it was scaled back from original plans and was more of a mini-memorial.
I initially thought those who were upset – people with different political and religious views than him – were overreacting. But as I got to know these counter-cultural people I viewed as hippies, I began to see their point of view.
I was able to broaden my perspective, but only because I was willing to spend time with and listen to people who didn’t see things my way. iBi
Kevin Moody earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics and math from Indiana University and a Master of Science degree in physics from Ball State University. His book, “The Battle of Fort Rock” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Battle-Fort-Rock-State/dp/1482039362), details his spiritual journey.