A friend, Drew Wade, who helped me edit my books, wrote this insightful piece on Bubbles. I thought it was very well put and wanted to share it with you. I agree wholeheartedly with him that being in a bubble is a dangerous place to be. Getting out of one’s comfort zone (bubble) is a key part to growing and prospering. Looking at all sides of a problem and figuring out what side of the issue you want to stand on is important. Important to building character…
Bubbles. Perhaps you’ve heard people talking about them on TV lately, specifically regarding the 2016 election. “The Democrats just couldn’t see what half of America wanted,” or “Hillary thought she would win because she was only listening to people who were getting their information from incorrect pollsters.” You also hear about bubbles regarding Facebook and Google, and how they’re handling their crisis with fake news stories that might have influenced the election.
Can we be honest for a second? Fake news wouldn’t be nearly as much of a problem if people were at least getting it from two sides. It’s not a fake news problem; it’s a BUBBLE problem. People are willing to receive the most ridiculous fake news from one side if that fake news tells them exactly what they want to hear, even if it’s completely stupid. People would rather hear something comforting than hear something trustworthy.
People like the comfort of their bubbles. You see this everywhere, from the echo chambers of the big cities and the urban elites, to the lack of civility you encounter on social media if you so much as dare to disagree with one of your friends. (Seriously, though, this phenomenon of people “unfriending” their sometimes-lifelong friends if those friends say something they disagree with is not healthy for society.)
So, since we know that people like their bubbles and they like their comfort, we can deduce something potentially earth-shattering: You will have an advantage, in business or in life, if you recognize your tendency to stay in your bubble, and then you adjust accordingly. Knowing how to get out of your bubble—how to hear and receive things from the other side of an argument—is one of the most valuable skills you can possess.
But how do you get out of your bubble? I’ve already mentioned that you should make yourself listen to both sides of an argument. You should do this even—especially—if you naturally disagree strongly with one of the sides. Listening to both sides is not enough, however. You also have to think critically about the issues being discussed.
Here’s an example. I work with these two sweet women who were absolutely devastated by Hillary Clinton losing the election. I mean, they were inconsolable to the point where, the day after Hillary lost, they couldn’t even talk. About a week after the election, when things had settled down a little bit, we had a conversation about politics. They were both still very upset about what had happened, and they started calling Trump supporters racist, sexist, et cetera. I said, “Hold on—you mean to tell me you can’t imagine anyone voting for Trump because of legitimate issues?” (I’m from the rust belt, and the legitimate issue of NAFTA jumped to mind.) They couldn’t think of one.
I asked them where they got their news from. To my non-surprise, they mentioned CNN, MSNBC, Slate, Salon, and so on—and did not mention sources like Fox and Breitbart. When I asked them about Fox and Breitbart, they could barely conceal their disgust. “I can’t bring myself to read that crap,” said one. “What about hearing about a story from both sides?” I asked. “Some issues shouldn’t even have another side,” said one.
At that point, I realized I was dealing with bubbleheads.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for a second and say that they had a point. Let’s say that some arguments should not have a legitimate counter viewpoint. It still pays to listen to the people who hold that illegitimate counter viewpoint.
Here’s why. Exposure to uncomfortable viewpoints makes you think deeply about why you disagree with said viewpoints. Once you start thinking deeply about opposing arguments, you start bringing that ability to other areas of life. Thinking deeply and thinking creatively go hand in hand. Both solve problems.
Perhaps you’ve heard about safe spaces on college campuses, or about trigger warnings for college students before controversial reading assignments, or about the ability to opt out if a college student doesn’t want to be exposed to a conflicting argument. These college students are going out into the world unprepared for life. (And, since I brought up unfriending before, let me say that I’ve had the trigger warning/safe space argument with friends on Facebook. I got unfriended by three out of four of the people I was arguing with.)
Look, just because you’re listening to both sides does not mean you have to believe both of them. Be incredulous. Put things through a rigorous test, even when they’re on your side. The plus side to this extreme vetting is that when a side passes your test often enough, it will develop a good reputation with you, and you will know it’s most likely trustworthy.
Here’s the brilliant thing: once we’ve started giving both sides a fair listen and started putting them through the ringer, it becomes an automatic process. We can find the time to take this critical thinking approach because it’s not something we add to our busy lives—it’s an entirely new way of thinking. It’s not a routine, it’s normal existence.
You’ve heard a lot of talk about the urban elites lately—you know, the ones who got the election wrong. They’re not the real elites. They might have the money, sure, but they don’t have the brainpower. The real elites are those who can rise above normal, everyday viewpoints. Henry David Thoreau said that… “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I say, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet mediocrity.”
For me, mediocrity means always wanting to be comfortable, never challenging yourself, always staying in the safe space of your own echo chamber. Getting above that comfort-oriented, never-hearing-anything-you-don’t-want-to-hear mindset is the way to break through mediocrity. It’s the way to begin training your mind for greatness.