In today’s hostile world, a lot of us are finding ourselves at odds with practically everyone. Whether it’s the pandemic, climate change or the political landscape, it can be difficult to discuss or even think about these situations without getting a bit heated.
While there are many situations where some of our opinions are steadfast, it can still be beneficial to step back and assess how we are looking at a situation and whether we really have the full picture. Our view of the world can be akin to a camera lens. Face it, you cannot see everything through a camera lens. But you can exercise some tips to help expand that camera lens and re-assess our view. This not only helps to develop your own opinion but also have a more fruitful conversation with folks with whom you don’t agree.
How Do We Form These Lenses?
There are many factors that can determine our view of the world. They can ultimately be boiled down into two things: our relationships and our experiences.
As we grow up, a lot of what we learn and figure out about the world comes from our family. Have you ever been told those little white lies growing up that you believed to be true? I still can’t turn on the interior light in my car because my mom said it was illegal. Spoiler alert: it isn’t. If we could believe smaller things, what about bigger truths that may not have been refuted until years later?
It isn’t just our families that can shape this lens. Other relationships can affect this like our friendships, coworkers and romantic partners. We might hear stories from them about their own experiences or opinions and even find ourselves agreeing with them depending on the situation. Perhaps we don’t want to upset them, or if we are in a large group, we could fall into the notion of groupthink. Have you ever just agreed with the group so that you wouldn’t stick out or embarrass yourself? If we continue to deny our own opinions, or at least have the discussion and get a better understanding, our views may not accurately portray what we actually believe.
Our experiences also play a major factor in how we see the world. These can be first-hand experiences, where they happen to you directly, or second-hand where you hear them from another source (friends, news outlets, etc.). Perhaps you interacted with a certain group of people and your opinion of them formed due to that one experience. Experiences also tend to build on each other, and depending on how you approach these experiences, they may solidify certain opinions versus challenging them, which can lead to a narrower world view.
Have you ever heard of the Rashomon Effect? Check out this article to read more about how our own experiences do not necessarily mean that they tell the entire story!
Expanding Your Lens
Ok, so it may not be a surprise how our lenses have formed over the years. The longer our lenses have hung out in the same aperture, the harder it’s going to be to change it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Assessing how we came to form our own views and opinions can help to understand why others don’t necessarily view things the same way.
Think about it: no two people have had the same relationships or experiences as you have. You may have a lot in common with someone, but you are still two different people. And hey, if we all had the same opinion, life would be pretty boring! Remembering that simple fact can sometimes help you cool down in the middle of a heated discussion. But sometimes it takes us a little more to surpass being stuck in our own way of thinking.
There have been more and more critical conversations that have come up over the last year. These are not easy discussions to have by any means. However, instead of expanding our lens with these conversations, many of us end up narrowing them. We are creating unsafe environments and making these conversations little more than a screaming match with name-calling and ignorance.
So how can we create a better space to have these discussions? One of the most basic (although not the easiest) ways is to remember one thing: You don’t have to be right. There are very few things that are objectively correct. While there are many things that we as a society can agree on are wrong, there are still many gray areas. If we enter a conversation just to prove the other person wrong, that person may lash out or just go silent and not share any of their own opinions. Instead, try to enter the conversation with a different intention: to hear that person’s side of the story with a sense of genuine curiosity.
While these conversations may certainly morph your own opinion, that doesn’t mean they have to. Sometimes folks get worried that they will be judged by others if they talk to someone with a different opinion. They may be viewed as “wishy-washy” on their opinion, or are weak in their own views. Remember something here: you don’t have to agree with that person to have a civil conversation.
In working on expanding your lens, it will probably expand beyond just having conversations with someone. This may come as no surprise, but doing research on a certain topic can really help to expand your understanding. And no, that headline you read on Facebook does not count. It’s important to read into the context of these topics. Make sure you are looking at a variety of sources to form a relatively unbiased opinion. We are all going to have some level of bias, but only reading one article from one news source is certainly not going to give you the full picture.
Why Is This Important?
Truth is, we are looking behind a camera. We are never going to get the entire picture of anything, or everything. But when we actively work on the continuation of understanding, we create a more proactive environment for those around us. We can help influence others to freely share their opinions and, consequently, be open to other opinions. This can lead to the implementation of a more diverse workforce as well, which leads to improved collaboration, more creativity and greater innovation in our work environment.
Overall, doesn’t it just feel good to feel understood? If you extend this kindness to others, chances are they will return the favor.
Myranda Whitesides is a Performance Support Specialist for the Interior Business Center, the Department of Interior’s Shared Services Center. She conducts personnel and payroll systems training for over 50 federal agencies, as well as providing training in Diversity and Inclusion for her peers. Myranda also serves as the Education Co-Director for the Mile High Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), coordinating Educational content for Human Resources professionals in the Denver Metro area. Myranda also enjoys singing, camping, and exploring local breweries and restaurants with her husband, Daniel.
A version of this post appeared on October 22, 2020.