Can We Really Understand Others Viewpoints?

This question popped into my mind a few days ago, when I sat across a table listening to two very passionate fellas, with opposing views, debate a topic I knew nothing about. I worked really hard at trying to understand why there was so much confusion. Couldn’t they just work together on these issues? Why is there even division on this matter in the first place? Can't we all just get along? Are they even listening to each other?

Hmph. Listening. The heart cry that leaked from both of them. No one was listening. At least that's what I gathered from where I was sitting. These fellas were pretty much saying the same thing, except the “thing” they were saying, represented two very different groups of people, with different views, with different beliefs about the world and the people in it. They were so blinded by their views, that they lost track of the initial problem, and long gone were the options for a possible solution.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, says “Morality binds us together into cohesive groups, but blinds us to the ideas and motives of those in other groups.”

This is an interesting statement because I felt this exact thing in the moment of trying to process the confusion these fellas were exhibiting. How could they possibly see the other side? Their systems way of thinking was created to oppose the other. There's no way they could come to an agreement, unless they decided on a new system, a new way of thinking.

Dividing ourselves into groups make us feel good, and apart of something. It increases social capital, trust, and helps us to identify with something or someone. It temporarily satisfies our tribal nature to belong, but interrupts our way of life if challenged. Why?

It’s no secret that we naturally present ourselves to others with our beliefs, values, and opinions in focus. It’s not until you intentionally remove those things from the forefront of your mind, that you’re able to truly see other beliefs, values, and opinions, different from your own.

This shift in thinking is referred to as a paradigm shift by Steven Covey. It represents our attitudes, behaviors, perceptions of the world, or frame of references, and stems from our own personal experiences, not others. We respond to situations based on how we were treated in previous situations, so why do we argue with others when they don't understand our perspective? They have one too.

This phenomenon, of what psychologists call the illusion of asymmetric insight, creates a lot of problems. For example, it allows you to completely reject what others believe because you think you understand it, and remain convinced that they'd agree with you if only they understood your point of view.

It’s a hard concept to accept because we’re “by nature” selfish and we believe we’re right. We come into the world crying for attention and every being on this planet responds to our call. It’s not until we make the choice to listen to understand before we try and be understood that we can really see another way.

I’m not saying to ignore your feelings, or am I saying my way of thinking is the only way, but I am saying if you truly desire to understand other views, this behavior is one to consider putting into practice.

We probably never will be able to fully paint a complete picture of ourselves or understand the other person completely, even when we're being honest, and that's because who we really are is internalized. All of us project incomplete versions of who we are all day long. It's easy to argue and disagree with what we see, hear, and observe, but the full truth is often beyond our reach.

Next time you disagree with another person or group, remember that you probably don't truly know and understand their point of view. You may agree on more than you're able to perceive. So ask them.

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