Let’s face it: Between projects, final exams, work and extracurricular commitments, many of us don’t like to force ourselves into uncomfortable situations if they are at all avoidable. Particularly with our political affiliations and our perceptions of other people, we choose not to dabble too much in what we don’t know — much less ideas contrary to our own.
But through the span of our lives, we will rarely have the opportunity to be in a place as diverse as a college campus. Rather than keep ourselves closed off to people we don’t see eye to eye with, we should utilize this diversity to expand our knowledge of other ideas.
Quite often, we only identify with groups of people who look, think and talk the same as we do, and we consume media that aligns with our own bias.
As John Milton brought to public attention the idea of a free marketplace of ideas in his book “Areopagetica,” we need to understand where other people are coming from. Not only will it make us more intelligent, but it will allow us to better empathize with others, despite our differing opinions.
But it’s difficult to remain level-headed sometimes. Some of us immediately become incredulous and frustrated when speaking to people with opposing ideas – you can hear it in the voice. Or others immediately accept controversial reports from biased news sources as gospel without doing some digging themselves.
This type of blind ignorance and confirmation bias can become particularly dangerous, especially when we are frequently encouraged to be partisan on every hot-button issue. In a research paper by Tufts University psychology professor Dr. Raymond S. Nickerson, we see the lengths at which people will confirm their own bias.
“People tend to seek information that they consider supportive of favored hypotheses or existing beliefs and to interpret information in ways that are partial to those hypotheses or beliefs,” Raymond wrote. “Conversely, they tend not to seek and perhaps even to avoid information that would be considered counter indicative with respect to those hypotheses or beliefs and supportive of alternative possibilities.”
To some degree, our desire to stay the course makes sense. It feels like stability. It’s easy to stick to the ideas we know and accept new information from sources we have trusted for years.
But rather than relying on other people to call us out (or hoping we never have to encounter people who will actually call us out), there are clearer ways to check yourself. Specifically, Harvard has put together a series of quizzes that measure peoples’ bias.
Harvard’s Implicit test can test your bias on all sorts of topics, including gender roles, racism and religion. We highly recommend this source as it is an exceptionally good place to start considering the wide variety of topics you can quiz yourself on.
You may wonder what good a test like the Implicit quizzes will actually do for you. Sure, holding on to what you know is comfortable, but being aware of other ideologies is much more effective and will lead to a better, more rounded life.
You may even find yourself getting along with people you would otherwise never find yourself speaking with because you understand they have their own perspective, too.
It could also help you make personal decisions and develop opinions regarding topics you haven’t questioned since childhood.
It can also help you better understand your own social habits and allow you to correct them, especially if some of those habits are pitting you against other people.
We are all a culmination of our own experiences. If our experiences are all coming from one singular point of view, will we really lead a fulfilling life? Challenging those ideas that have been unchallenged for years now may be the pivot point that allows us to be more well-rounded, empathetic humans.